Congress Puts Some Liquified Coal in Our Stockings

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdlugosz/1925226327/sizes/z/in/photostream/">chrisdlugosz</a> (<a href="http://www.creativecommons.org">Creative Commons</a>).

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The Senate approved the controversial tax package on Wednesday, kicking the bill back to the House for a final vote. President Obama has asked the House to approve it without making any changes. The vote on the $860 billion tax package has proven controversial in green circles as well. The renewable-energy industry is cheering passage, while a coalition of the big environmental groups have united against it, arguing that the little good it does on energy is outweighed by major incentives for dirty power sources.

The green groups argue that the energy provisions of the bill “would, as a whole, take us backwards not forward on moving to a clean energy economy.” In a letter to representatives, the groups point to two portions—an extension of the incentive for turning coal into liquid fuel and the credit for corn ethanol. The former would provide a $0.50 tax credit for every gallon of liquid coal sold or used in the US—and liquid coal creates almost twice as much greenhouse gas pollution as regular old gasoline.

And, though corn-based ethanol is of dubious environmental benefit, the credit would cost more than $31 billion over the next five years. “Not only is the corn ethanol tax credit wasteful, but continuing to use scarce taxpayer dollars to support a mature, mainstream and polluting technology like corn ethanol will impede our ability to transition to the new, better-performing advanced biofuels we need,” wrote the groups, which included 1Sky, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.

Meanwhile, the renewables lobby is cheering the inclusion of at least a few of the tax programs it was looking for to boost its industries. The package included a one-year extension of the Department of Treasury grant program for renewables, which gives businesses a cash grant for new projects, rather than making them wait for the 30 percent investment tax credit.

The Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association both put out statements today praising the extension. SEIA noted that the program, which was originally created under the stimulus bill in 2009, has so far supported 1,100 solar projects in 42 states, leading to $18 billion in investment.

Does the grant program outweigh some of the not-so-great portions of the bill when it comes to renewable power? Not really. But at least there’s something worthwhile on energy in the package.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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