Tax bill boosts oil, gas drilling _ and renewable energy

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, talks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans signed the conference committee report to advance the GOP tax bill, in Washington, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The Republicans' tax package would boost traditional forms of energy such as oil and gas while also supporting renewable energy such as wind and solar power — and even extend a hand to buyers of electric cars.

An agreement by House and Senate negotiators would open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, while preserving tax credits for wind power and other clean energy. The bill also would extend a tax credit of up to $7,500 for purchases of plug-in electric vehicles such as the Tesla Model 3 and Chevrolet Bolt.

Republicans rolled out the bill late Friday.

Opening the remote Arctic refuge to oil and gas drilling is a longtime Republican priority that most Democrats fiercely oppose. The 19.6-million-acre refuge in northeastern Alaska is one of the most pristine areas in the United States and is home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans say drilling can be done safely with new technology, while ensuring a steady energy supply for West Coast refineries.

Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said opening the refuge to drilling is "the single-most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term energy security and create new wealth."

The House and Senate are expected to vote on the $1.5 trillion tax legislation next week as GOP leaders push the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in more than three decades.

The bill preserves a phase-out of tax incentives for both the solar and wind industries passed in 2015. Tax credits for wind are set to expire in 2020, and solar credits in 2022.

The wind-energy credits are popular with some Republicans, including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who worked to defend them after they were curtailed in a version passed by the House.

Electric cars comprise just about 1 percent of sales nationwide, but several states have mandates that such "zero emission vehicles" make up a much larger portion of vehicle sales. Manufacturers worry that eliminating the tax credit would have made those targets virtually impossible to meet.

The Arctic refuge has been the focus of a political fight for nearly four decades. Former President Bill Clinton vetoed a GOP plan to allow drilling in the refuge in 1995, and Democrats led by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell defeated a similar plan in 2005.

Most congressional Republicans support the drilling plan, including veteran Alaska Rep. Don Young, one of the plan's negotiators. Young called drilling "crucially important to the nation" and said it would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create jobs for Alaskans.

Democrats and environmental groups say the GOP plan risks spoiling one of the nation's most pristine areas and is especially unwise at a time when U.S. oil production is booming, with imports declining and exports reaching record levels.

Lawmakers "do not need to ruin a wildlife refuge and an ecosystem that is intact just to give tax breaks to big corporations," Cantwell said. "We can do better than this."

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