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U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich calls for support of renewable energy amid coronavirus pandemic

U.S. Sen. Martin Henrich of New Mexico joined a coalition of senators pushing for funding for the “clean energy” industry when drafting legislation to relieve America’s economy as it struggles to rebuild amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Originating in China, the virus recently spread globally and into the U.S., stymieing demand for commodities such as crude oil and weakening the domestic and global economies.

Republicans in the Senate supported an almost $2 trillion spending package to relieve workers and businesses during the market’s downfall, by Democrats blocked the bill for the second day in a row on Monday, criticizing the GOP’s efforts as a “bail out” to big business.

Heinrich and 17 senators drafted and sent a letter to Congress, imploring lawmakers to include support for “clean energy” such as wind and solar power, to any economic relief packages.

The all-Democrat group of lawmakers called for language to modernize the U.S.’ energy infrastructure to allow more solar or wind power to be distributed to bring relief to Americans through tax credits and by protecting jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The renewable energy industry supports about 800,000 workers, the senators wrote, in every state.

Renewable energy projects were already facing delays due to the outbreak and subsequent economic downturn, the letter read, with 30 percent of projects postponed.  

“As Congress takes steps to ensure that our nation’s workforce is prepared to emerge stronger from the coronavirus health and economic crisis, we must act to shore up clean energy businesses and workers who are uniquely impacted by the crisis,” read the letter.

“This action, which has precedent in prior financial recovery efforts, could take several forms, including tax credit extensions or removal of the current phase-out schedule, direct payment or refundability, or extensions of safe harbor continuity.”

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The letter pointed to a relief package issued in 2009 known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama in response to the Great Recession of 2008 and providing $90 billion in funding for clean energy and grid modernization projects.

That law also provided funding streams such as a 30 percent tax credit for clean energy manufacturing.

“As Congress develops this new package, it should consider these immediate relief programs for the renewable and clean energy industry,” read the letter. “This could include direct payment or refundability, extensions of safe harbor continuity, tax credit extensions, electric vehicle credit expansion, or removal of the current phase-out schedules for the clean energy industry.”

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As President Donald Trump announced the federal government would purchase $30 million in oil to help support the oil and gas industry as the price plummeted below $25 per barrel as of Monday, the senators urged the federal government to also support renewable energy and workers in the industry.

“These strategies to provide assistance to the clean energy industry must be included in any financial recovery discussions, particularly if the Trump Administration continues its push to aid the oil industry,” read the letter.

The move came as Heinrich and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) announced the recently enacted Families First Coronavirus Response Act would bring $250 million in federal Medicaid funding to New Mexico over a 12-month period, as states face increased healthcare costs associated with the virus.  

“The last thing New Mexicans impacted by this public health crisis should be worried about is finding health care coverage,” Heinrich said.

“The Families First Coronavirus Response Act included $250 million to ensure the hardworking New Mexico families who rely on Medicaid will continue to get the care they need. We need to ensure New Mexico families who qualify can receive Medicaid coverage for critical and lifesaving health care.”

But Larry Behrens, Albuquerque-based western states director at Power the Future, an energy worker advocacy group, said Congressional Democrats’ efforts to included federal funding for renewable energy constituted a “give-away” to special interest groups.

“New Mexicans need support immediately and help shouldn’t be delayed to appease the eco-left,” Behrens said.