April 28, 2023 9:00am

Sure, reduce the national debt, but leave clean energy credits alone

Two-thirds of Power Poll respondents want to leave EV and other green incentives untouched

Photo of Steve Fennessy
Atlanta, GA Correspondent

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to reduce the nation’s $31 trillion debt by slashing green energy tax credits is misplaced, according to two out of three respondents in this month’s Power Poll. Sixty-six percent of respondents agreed that the clean energy incentives are too important and that other cuts should be identified.

On Wednesday, when the poll was still open, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed legislation that, they argue, would lower the national debt by almost $5 billion over the next 10 years. (To be clear, the debt would still continue to climb over the next decade, but just to $47 trillion, as opposed to $52 trillion.) Part of those cuts would be in the form of eliminating most of the energy tax provisions that President Biden signed into law in 2022. The House bill has approximately zero chance of becoming law—Republicans are still in the minority in the Senate, and Biden has said such cuts are a non-starter—but McCarthy is using the legislation to force Biden to the negotiating table, since the president needs Republican support in order to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

Of course, clean energy tax credits aren’t the only place where Republicans have identified cuts. Canceling Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, capping discretionary spending, clawing back unspent Covid-19 funds—all are targeted in the legislation. However, of all the areas to cut, the energy tax provisions are potentially the most politically fraught. Why? Because, as Politico reported, most of these tax credits and incentives are benefiting red states. Specifically, according to a Politico analysis, two-thirds of the major renewable energy, battery and electric vehicle projects are in Republican districts.

And arguably no Republican governor has embraced the incentives more than Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Although he railed against (and continues to) the 2022 law that provided, among other things, $7,500 in tax credits to buyers of EV cars manufactured here, he is also taking full advantage of the incentives to woo green energy manufacturers to Georgia. He’s so smitten with EV manufacturer Rivian—the company whose $5 billion investment in Georgia production facilities is the biggest economic development deal in state history—that he celebrated March 1 as “Rivian Day” in the state. In January, he announced that Qcells will invest $2.5 billion to expand its solar panel manufacturing operations in Georgia. And last week he traveled to Tallulah Gorge to unveil the first EV car chargers in the state park system. Georgia, his office has proclaimed, is on its way to becoming the “e-mobility capital of America.”

So yeah, eliminating the very incentives that help make these investments possible is a bit of a minefield for Republicans. We asked Power Poll respondents to assess the role clean energy will play in Georgia’s future economic development, and a whopping 97 percent said it’s either very important (69 percent) or somewhat important (28 percent).

Of course, the subtext of all clean energy incentive discussions is the environment. With the Earth heating up, we also wanted to know how worried you are about climate change. Forty-five percent say it keeps them up at night, while a third of respondents say it exists but it’s overblown. And 16 percent aren’t worried about it at all.

Finally, in metro Atlanta the announcement of another multi-use project is about as surprising a sight as azaleas in April. But news of “The Gathering at South Forsyth”—(who came up with that name?)—was eye-catching: a $2 billion live-work-play development along Georgia 400 that would include an arena that could potentially host an NHL expansion franchise. (We’ve been without one since the Thrashers migrated north to Winnipeg more than a decade ago.) Much about the announcement was vague: Where would the money come from? Would some come from taxpayers? We asked your opinion and one thing is clear: By all means, Developer Person, build your mini-city. But don’t expect tax dollars to do it!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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