On November 3, 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum (Memorandum) that potentially opens the door to agency attempts to expand mitigation obligations beyond what is required under law while also having the potential to have significant and positive net benefits for the development of energy projects. The Memorandum encourages advance (i.e., pre-project) restoration measures, including mitigation banking, by both public and private entities.  It directs federal agencies to adopt a clear and consistent approach, such as guidance and regulations, to further this goal. Agencies affected include the United States Forest Service (USFS), the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Interior (DOI) — projects involving review by these agencies, including energy and other types of proposed development, may be affected. These agencies will be expected to draft handbooks, guidelines, policies and regulations to implement advance mitigation measures.
Intense climate negotiations in Paris have now concluded for the 21st “conference of the parties” (or COP-21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Until quite late in the process, many big-picture questions remained unresolved, including the enforceability of emissions limitations plans under the agreement, compensation for loss, and the target limit for global temperature rise. The resolution of these questions will be summarized below, with initial commentary on the results of the negations and questions going forward.
Leading up to and during the negotiations, media reports reflected optimism among global stakeholders seeking limits to greenhouse gas emissions, and expectations for an historic deal ran high. This ambitious agenda redoubled during the talks themselves, when low-lying island nations and scientists sought to tighten temperature increase targets from 2 degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius. As discussed below, while the agreement reflects a new level of commitment to cutting carbon, the high expectations were not met entirely in the final accord.
Renewable energy will play a major role in EPA’s latest proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from electric generating facilities. On June 2, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy proposed a new regulation for cutting carbon pollution from existing electric generating units (EGUs). This rule is perhaps the most significant action to date in the President’s Climate Action Plan announced last year. The rule will require EGUs to reduce their CO2 emissions by 30% by 2030 from 2005 levels. EPA assigned a CO2 goal for each state but lets states choose how best to meet the goal. Read More
On March 4, President Obama released his annual budget request to Congress. The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 request includes many proposals from previous years, but it also includes some new ideas—including on energy taxes. Below is a summary of the Administration’s energy tax proposals.
- Modify and Permanently Extend the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC). As in its budget request last year, the Administration would make the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 45 PTC permanent, refundable, and available to solar facilities. However, there are two significant changes from last year: (1) the Administration would make the credit available for electricity consumed directly by the taxpayer; and (2) solar facilities could choose to use either the PTC or the investment tax credit (ITC) under IRC Section 48 through the end of 2016. After 2016, the proposal would repeal the permanent 10 percent ITC for solar and geothermal property.
- Modify and Permanently Extend the Deduction for Energy-Efficient Commercial Building Property. The Administration would raise the current maximum deduction for energy-efficient commercial building property to $3.00 per square foot, increase the maximum partial deduction for each separate building system to $1.00 per square foot, and provide a new deduction to reward energy savings achieved by retrofits to existing buildings, among other changes.
- Provide a Tax Credit for the Production of Advanced Technology Vehicles. The Administration would replace the existing tax credit for plug-in electric drive motor vehicles with a credit for “advanced technology vehicles” that: (1) operate primarily on an alternative to petroleum fuels; (2) use technology employed by few other vehicles in the U.S.; and (3) exceed the “target” miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) by at least 25 percent.
- Provide a Tax Credit for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Alternative Fuel Commercial Vehicles. The Administration would create a new tax credit for alternative fuel vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds. The credit would equal $25,000 for vehicles weighing up to 26,000 pounds and $40,000 for vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds.
- Extend the Tax Credit for Cellulosic Biofuels. The tax credit for the production of cellulosic biofuels under IRC Section 40 (recently re-titled the “second generation biofuel producer credit”) expired at the end of 2013. The Administration would retroactively extend the credit through 2020 at its current level of $1.01 per gallon.
- Modify and Extend the Tax Credit for the Construction of Energy-Efficient New Homes. The Administration would extend the tax credit for new energy-efficient homes acquired before 2015. For homes acquired between 2015 and 2025, the proposal would provide a $1,000 credit for the construction of a qualified ENERGY STAR certified new home. The Administration would also provide a $4,000 tax credit for construction of DOE Challenge Homes.
- Reduce Excise Taxes on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to Bring Into Parity with Excise Taxes on Diesel. The Administration would lower the 24.3 cents per gallon excise tax on LNG to 14.1 cents per gallon after 2014.
The Administration has also proposed to repeal numerous tax preferences for conventional energy companies. In particular, the President proposed to repeal the following provisions:
- Credit for Enhanced Oil Recovery (“EOR”) Projects
- Credit for Oil and Natural Gas Produced from Marginal Wells
- Expensing of Intangible Drilling Costs
- Deduction for Tertiary Injectants
- Exemption to Passive Loss Limitation for Working Interests in Oil and Gas Properties
- Percentage Depletion for Oil and Natural Gas Wells
- Domestic Manufacturing Deduction for Oil and Natural Gas Production
- Expensing of Exploration and Development Costs
- Percentage Depletion for Hard Mineral Fossil Fuels
- Capital Gains Treatment for Royalties
- Domestic Manufacturing Deduction for the Production of Coal and Other Hard Mineral Fossil Fuels
In addition to repealing these provisions, the Administration would increase the geological and geophysical amortization period for independent oil producers from two years to seven years.
Although it’s unclear whether Congress will enact any of these proposals into law, the Administration’s budget request is significant in that it establishes the President’s position on energy tax issues moving forward. This positioning is especially important as Congress debates tax extenders legislation and energy tax reform. It’s also important when considered in comparison to recent proposals from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), whose tax reform discussion draft would repeal incentives for alternative energy, and former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), whose tax reform staff discussion draft would establish a regime of technology-neutral tax incentives to reward reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while eliminating other energy tax provisions.
Stay tuned for more information as this debate unfolds.