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How Oil and Coal Contributions Affect the Way Our Senators Vote on Renewable Energy

On July 30th, 2008, for the eighth time, legislators failed to extend renewable energy federal investment tax credits. Senate bill S. 3335 would extend the 30% business tax credit for installing solar energy systems through 2017. The bill also raises the homeowner tax credit cap from $2,000 to $4,000. You’d really think this would be a slam dunk, right? Wrong. I wanted to know why this didn’t pass, so I did a little more digging.

Above, you can see that a slim majority of senators voted to send the bill to the floor for debate and a vote. However, in order for the debate to commence, 60 senators need to vote ‘aye’. Clearly, 51 was not enough. Why didn’t more senators vote for this? What is going on here. Well, let’s take a closer look at who voted to bring the issue to debate by party this time:


Wow, huge split down the middle on party lines. As it turns out, the sole democrat who voted against the bill was Harry Reid. However, he voted nay when he saw the bill was not going to make it to debate as a procedural gesture so that he could bring it back after revisions on a later date.

Naturally, since my livelihood and the livelihood of the solar industry is linked to the fate of this bill, I wanted to see who those 5 Republicans were, and learn a little more about why they may have felt safe crossing party lines to vote ‘aye’.

Vote Solar has made a call to phone and email your state senators or chiefs of staff to get this bill moving forward. Though, part of me has felt that many Republicans are too tied to the oil, gas, and coal industries to even bother with them. As OpenSecrets.org reports, since 1990, oil companies have given 75% of their funds to Republicans (over $220,000,000).

Take a close look at the spreadsheet below. Listed here are all the Republican senators, the amount and percentage of total campaign contributions they received from the non-renewable energy industry in 2008, and their votes to debate this bill (source):

[iframe: width=”700″ height=”975″ frameborder=”1″ scrolling=”yes” src=”http://sheet.zoho.com/publish/danyull99/senate-republican-voting-on-solar-itc-renewal”]

Now, you can clearly see that the 5 Republican senators (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina, Norm Coleman from Minnesota, and Gordon Smith from Oregon) approving the procession of the bill had a relatively small percentage of their campaign contributions coming from the non-renewable energy industry – confirming some of my suspicions.

Since we have 52 votes in tow at this point (including Harry Reid), 8 more Republicans need to cross party lines for anything to happen here. Instead of wasting our time with the senators that are near the bottom of the list, we should really be focusing on the senators near the top in more progressive areas of the country. These are the people we need to be hammering away at on the phones and emails. Senators near the bottom of this list most assuredly will not be voting for anything green unless they can drill for oil next in your back yard.

It looks like the oil and gas companies are siding with the McCain-Palin horse, but look at how they are hedging some of their bets with Obama-Biden too (Open Secrets):

Now, notice below both candidates abstained from this vote, but take a look at these 3 different funding sources for each of the following senators and their votes on this bill:

Look at the effect those Coal dollars had on Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia for example. Wow. He must have had a tough time getting up in the morning to look at himself having to abstain on this vote. Understandably, West Virginia is a heavy coal state and even though he’s a Democrat, he has to tread lightly. Even though clean coal is complete and utter BS, Jay has got some constituents to look after and some lobbyist money to honor. Hopefully, you find these contributions as enlightening as I did.

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5 thoughts on “How Oil and Coal Contributions Affect the Way Our Senators Vote on Renewable Energy

  1. Kathleen Llorens says:

    Dan-
    I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for the thoughtful and well-researched article. All of us need to contact our representatives in Washington and demand they do what is best for our country – design and implement a comprehensive plan for energy independence. It is sad, no criminal, that we are decades behind the small country of Denmark.

  2. Dan Hahn says:

    Hecman,

    People love the idea of drilling because it makes sense to them. Drill more at home so we can provide more oil for ourselves, right? However, look at the graph below.

    The proposed drilling would free up only that yellow sliver of oil for us to consume. Additionally, it will only be accessible 10+ years from now and at most will reduce gasoline prices by 2 cents.

    Republicans want us to drill because they are in the hip-pockets of the oil lobby. They are blocking this renewable energy legislation because the funding for the tax credit comes from closing a tax loophole that offshore oil companies have been using to reap billions of dollars in profit.

    We need to move forward to build an alternative energy infrastructure. We are on our last 25% of oil, we’ve already consumed the rest. Denmark, in response to the 1973 oil shock, created such an infrastructure 20 years ago. Their unemployment rate currently is at 1.6%, they produce 20% of their energy from wind power, and they are a major exporter of renewable energy technology. Their only international competitor is.. China. We are nowhere to be found on the renewable energy map. Look at some of the charts on this post for more info.

    Republicans are now clamoring to drill in the Arctic wildlife refuge so these large oil companies can claim more assets on their balance sheets, thereby inflating stock prices.

    So, they are taking oil, from our own land, and then selling it back to us for not much less than before. Even more sickening is that the media is pushing the oil agenda too. Makes you think about how corrupted they have become.

  3. HecMan says:

    I agree with Paul, but to be more specific I believe the Fair Tax would be the best alternative when it comes to taxes. As for the Bill S. 3335 do we have all the information as to why the Republicans said “NO”

    I would drill AND pursue alternatives, the payback would be quicker to drill and persuing alternatives as a long term solution.

    Let’s not be so closeminded that we are not willing to at least listen to the other side of the argument.

  4. Paul McManus says:

    I think our tax system is too complicated and I do not support complicating it further. Infact I would like to see the etire tax code reveamped and simplified. Using tax credits and rebates to try and control the behavior of american citizens is inefficient and often favors the wealthy.

    However I do believe solar power is essential to sustaining quality of life for Americans. I would like to see more education, more research and a grant program created to help offset the cost of residential solar installation.

    Paul McManus
    Florida

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