10 Incentives Congress Must Renew to Ensure a Clean Energy Future
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden has officially begun consideration of legislation to reinstate a suite of tax credits that big polluters and their allies succeeded in getting Congress to let expire, including vital, commonsense policies that promote clean energy.
These tax credits grow the economy by cutting pollution and their absence in the committee’s initial bill draft belies the broad, bipartisan support renewable and energy efficiency continue to attract. As final legislation takes shape, Congress should remain clear just what is at stake: clean energy is central to meeting our obligation to defend the next generation from the dangerous pollution that threatens our climate, health, and economy. The nation’s tax code is an important tool and it should be used to promote progress, not turn back the clock on our children’s future.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Continued support of America’s critical renewable and energy efficient tax policies – and for a period longer than what unfortunately has been traditionally limited to a one-year extension-- also will provide the market signals and stability necessary for significant job creation and technological advances to further advance a clean energy future. It’s time to stop permanently subsidizing big polluters and instead double down on using our tax code to support clean energy.
Below is a list of the clean energy credits that Congress must ensure are included in any final package:
Support for wind and other renewable energy:
- The Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC) offers a per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources, including wind and geothermal. It has played a valuable role in advancing wind power and nurturing an industry that now provides jobs to more than 80,000 Americans. In 2012 alone, the tax credit helped the wind industry catalyze $25 billion in private investment in our economy. More than 70 percent of U.S. congressional districts have either a wind project or wind-related manufacturing facility, bringing local economic development to the region.
- The Business Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a crucial strategy to launch the U.S. offshore wind industry, although it also applies to other resources like solar and geothermal. Considering that the Atlantic coast in particular has strong winds with an estimated potential of more than 1,300 gigawatts of energy generation, harnessing just 52 gigawatts offshore could power about 14 million U.S. homes and create more than $200 billion in new economic activity along the coast. Solar projects and other technologies supported through the ITC should also be eligible if they begin construction prior to the end of the credit period.
Key credits for energy efficiency, our cleanest, cheapest energy resource, should be refined and extended:
- The Deduction for Commercial Buildings (179D) allows private building owners and public building designers who cut energy use by 50 percent, compared with what would be consumed if the building were constructed under the 2001 building code, to take a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot. The savings are accomplished through changes in the lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, or in the building envelope—insulation, external windows and doors and/or roofing material. With more than 4.8 million commercial and other nonresidential buildings in the United States, the energy-saving potential is huge.
- The Credit for the Construction of Energy Efficient Homes (45L) provides a $2,000 tax credit to builders who achieve a 50 percent reduction in heating and cooling energy use compared with a home built to the 2006 code. Studies since the 1980s have shown energy efficiency can increase a home’s value by roughly 9 percent.
- The Credit for Residential Energy Efficiency Improvements (25C) offers homeowners a tax credit for 10 percent of the cost of energy efficient building envelope improvements and replacement equipment that meet certain criteria, with a $500 maximum over the life of the credit.
- Credit for the Manufacture of Energy Efficient Appliances (45M) offers a per-unit credit to builders of high-efficiency dishwashers, refrigerators, and clothes washers, according to energy savings. Enacted with industry support, this incentive boosts U.S. manufacturing as well as energy efficiency. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says 40,000 jobs are affected by this incentive: at least 17,000 direct manufacturing jobs and 23,000 support jobs.
Incentives to help grow the alternative-fuels sector:
- The Second-Generation Biofuel Producer Credit (Section 40) provides a $1.01 tax credit per gallon of cellulosic or algal biofuel production. Although it could benefit from several changes, the credit is the bedrock tax incentive for potentially sustainable alternatives to petroleum.
- The Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Tax Credit (Section 30C) helps individuals and businesses invest in recharging infrastructure that supports electric vehicles. Ideally, a multi-year extension would provide the necessary certainty to reinforce private investment across the electric and fuel cell vehicle markets.
- The Incentive for Fuel Cell Vehicles (26 USC 30B), which expires this year,provides a substantial tax credit to defray the cost of new fuel cell vehicles. Because it is performance-based, it provides a greater incentive for light duty fuel cell vehicles that achieve greater mileage performance. These vehicles represent an opportunity to shift the transportation sector from petroleum to hydrogen.
Commuter Transit and Parking Benefits
- Monthly commuting costs are reduced by excluding them from federal taxation. Drivers benefit from this provision via cheaper parking at their sites of employment. Providing this benefit for transit and vanpool users as well puts them on par with drivers and delivers an effective incentive for choosing these cleaner and more energy-efficient means of transportation, benefiting communities and the environment as well as workers.
In short, we need every wind turbine, solar panel, electric vehicle, and energy-efficient heater if we’re going to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change and to move the U.S. closer to a more stable and prosperous future. Both chambers of Congress should follow Chairman Wyden's lead and waste no time reinstating the full suite of clean energy credits.
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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach
The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.
When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.
We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.
Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.
What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?
Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.
Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.
To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.
Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.
The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.
Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.
Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?
The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.
Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome
While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.
It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.
Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.
Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.
Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.
Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.
Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."
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