Columnist Marty Nathan: Republican tax plan attacks environment

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reacts to a reporter’s question during a press conference Dec. 2, in Louisville, Ky. The Senate passed the tax bill early that morning with a 51-49 vote.  AP FILE PHOTO

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

There are many things that I abhor about the Republican tax plan. Let me count the (major) ways:

1. For raising taxes on working- and middle-class people making $75,000 or less;

2. For adding more than a trillion dollars to the federal deficit over 10 years, an act that will be used as an excuse to shred the rest of the social safety net — Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, housing, food programs, heating, public health, agriculture — relied on for survival by millions of Americans;

3. For destroying health care for 13 million by eliminating the Affordable Care Act personal mandate and thus raising premiums;

4. For shifting those stolen and borrowed dollars into massive cuts in corporate, personal and estate taxes for the wealthiest in our country. The GOP tax bill is a reverse Robin Hood move which, unfortunately, is the modus operandi of the party in power.

5. But the victims of the plunder are not just poor children, the elderly, and working people. Because that party in power is pretty much bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry, the bill has in its sights conservation and renewable energy efforts that might impair profits for big oil, gas and coal.

The most obvious anti-environmental piece of the bill opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas drilling. According to U.S. Rep. NikiTsongas, whose late husband Paul worked 40 years ago to create the refuge, it is home to caribou herds, polar bears, musk ox, gray wolves, and many other animal and plant species unique to the region. It also supports subsistence activities for native Alaskans.

In a move reminiscent of the graft we expect in third-world dictatorships, Mitch McConnell secured Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s vote for the tax bill by slipping in this destructive little gift, supposedly aimed at narrowing the deficit. Problem is, the move will close the trillion-dollar deficit by only $1 billion over those ten years.

The payment to Murkowski and Alaskan fossil fuel companies will instead buy our country the risk of permanent degradation to the Arctic Refuge’s wildlife, air and water. Further, the burning of what may be ten billion more gallons of oil under the refuge’s ground will usher in more climate change-mediated damage to Alaska, which has already suffered disproportionate harm from heat and melting tundra in the last few years.

Both the House and Senate versions of the tax bill attack the funding of renewable energy, but from different directions. The House bill eliminates tax credits for electric vehicles and renewable energy development.

The Senate bill is a bit sneakier, but threatens to bring wind and solar expansion “to a screeching halt,” according to Greg Wetstone of the American Council On Renewable Energy. A measure designed to discourage multinational corporations from moving profits and jobs offshore would wipe out the benefits of something called tax equity investing.

Developers of renewable energy usually do not make much or thus pay much in taxes. Instead they trade their wind or solar tax credits to wealthy project investors like Goldman Sachs which do have large tax bills and can use them come April. The Senate bill would cancel out the returns from that tax equity investment making renewable development much less profitable. In lieu of a government willing to invest directly in needed green energy, this kind of subsidy of corporations has encouraged the growth of renewables in our country from providing 1 percent of our country’s electric supply 10 years ago to 7 percent today.

While attacking renewable tax benefits, the bill does not touch the $135 billion in subsidies that will pass from the federal government to the highly profitable oil and gas industry in the next 10 years.

The struggle against climate change is based on science and scientists. As we are learning from our hard-working grad students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this monster bill will require them to pay taxes on tuition credits they receive to compensate low-wage teaching in our universities. With this additional burden, those who do not come from wealthy families will be forced to leave, potentially devestating the supply of future environmental scientists upon whom we have relied to understand the climate fix we are in.

And the big picture: Any real attempt at fighting climate change will take a massive World War II-style investment in a green economy. By draining our coffers of the means even of providing for the welfare of our people, this bill will preclude the possibility of making the necessary economic transition. We will be unable to pay the bills. Forget investment in a future for our children.

“What are we doing?” cried a friend recently as we discussed this travesty. Good question.

All who have called or visited Congress or demonstrated in the streets or discussed this with your faith or work community, please raise your hand. If not, take that hand and use it to call Congress now to stop this theft from our nation and its future by those who already have way too much.

Call this a postscript. I was asked by a friend in the know to remind everyone who has a “good” roof with a clear southern exposure that does not yet have solar panels attached, to call today to investigate the possibility of installing them.

The state’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit program will end in March 2018 or at the start of the state’s substitute, the much-less-generous Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target or SMART program. Grab the opportunity to go rooftop solar.

Dr. Marty Nathan lives in Northampton and is a physician at BaystateBrightwood Health Center in Springfield. She is on the steering committee of Climate Action NOW. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.