Republicans call to repeal clean energy incentives amid Georgia green boom

Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, left, and Drew Ferguson both participated in a House Ways and Means Committee field hearing in Peachtree City on Friday where GOP members pushed to repeal wide-ranging green energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed last year. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Georgia Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, left, and Drew Ferguson both participated in a House Ways and Means Committee field hearing in Peachtree City on Friday where GOP members pushed to repeal wide-ranging green energy incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act that President Joe Biden signed last year. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Republicans used a congressional field hearing in suburban Atlanta to amplify the party’s call to roll back green energy tax incentives that were the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s climate change law.

The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee’s meeting Friday in Peachtree City was part of an intensifying effort by Republicans to blame Biden and other Democrats for sparking inflation with a spate of new federal spending measures since he took office in 2021.

House Republicans are trying to leverage their power in Congress by pushing for a compromise to raise the debt ceiling if Democrats agree to repeal wide-ranging green energy incentives embedded in the Inflation Reduction Act that Biden signed last year.

U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy aims to pass a plan to wind down new solar power and electric-vehicle tax credits as early as next week, setting up a collision course with Democrats over raising the government’s borrowing cap to avert a financial catastrophe.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Collins mocked the clean energy incentives at the hearing, saying they didn’t do anything to address the region’s traffic-choked interstate highways and ignored the growing threat that China poses to the U.S. economy.

The GOP proposal, which spans more than 300 pages, was immediately rejected by the White House. Biden told union organizers in Maryland that it would “undo all the stuff you helped me get done” over his first term.

It also includes a host of measures that would be nonstarters in the Democratic-controlled Senate, such as mandates for oil and gas lease sales on federal land, strict limits on spending increases and new work requirements for recipients of food stamps.

Economic angst

The meeting in Peachtree City opened with familiar sparring between members of the committee, with each party trading blame over high inflation and other factors stoking fears of a looming economic slowdown.

The lawmakers heard from several business owners who painted a troubling picture of the local economy. Alison Couch of Ignite Accounting pressed for an extension of a tax credit for small businesses she said is crucial for many struggling firms.

And Matt Livingston, who owns Coach’s Bar and Grill, told committee members that his restaurant suffers from high turnover, supply-chain troubles and the fallout of pandemic-era payouts that have made it hard to keep his West Point eatery open.

“No matter what incentive you offer,” he said, “they’re not going to come back to work.”

While inflation has fueled rising prices of food staples and household goods, Georgia’s economic foundation has remained solid. Gas prices are lower than a year ago, the rise in rental rates has slowed and many other price hikes have eased.

Hiring has also been robust, with employers adding more than 133,000 jobs in the past 12 months, according to the state Department of Labor. Job openings have been plentiful while the unemployment rate for the past eight months has held at 3.1% — lower than any pre-pandemic jobless rate since the government started calculating it in 1976.

Inflation has fueled rising prices for food and other household goods, but Georgia's economy continues to exhibit strength, adding more than 133,000 jobs in the past 12 months. (TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Still, rate hikes by the Federal Reserve over the past 17 months have exacted a toll. The housing market has staggered through several months of roller-coaster sales as the rapid run-up in prices slowed. The pace of hiring has also decelerated.

But month after month, the economy has grown, jobs have been added and there are fewer unemployed Georgians than before the pandemic.

Congressional Democrats warn a drawn-out fight over raising the borrowing cap could undermine the economy, and they point to regular votes during Donald Trump’s presidency to raise the debt ceiling without conditions.

Republicans say new federal laws under the Biden administration have boosted government spending and spurred inflation. The best remedy, they say, involves steep budget cuts and more restraints on taxpayer-financed initiatives.

Green energy boom

But the GOP calls to repeal tax breaks designed to boost the production of electric vehicles, solar panels and other green energy manufacturing also pose concerns for Gov. Brian Kemp and state Republicans.

Kemp has helped the state recruit a string of massive projects tied to the transition away from fossil fuels, including an expansion of solar giant Qcells, a Rivian electric-vehicle factory sprouting in northeast Georgia and Hyundai’s $5.5 billion “Metaplant” near Savannah.

Jimmy Knauf of Rivian, center, smiles as he shows one of the company's trucks to Gov. Brian Kemp and first lady Marty Kemp during a press conference in December 2021. Under Kemp, the state has recruited a number of massive projects tied to the transition away from fossil fuels, including an expansion of solar giant Qcells, an electric-vehicle factory plans to build in northeast Georgia and a $5.5 billion “Metaplant” near Savannah that Hyundai plans to open in 2025. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/AJC

Kemp tried to reconcile his party’s call to scale back incentives that have helped make Georgia a fast-growing alternative energy hub by taking aim at a provision that he warned could leave major manufacturers “out in the cold.”

In a letter to U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock ahead of the hearing, the governor highlighted a part of the law that would require all EVs to undergo final assembly in North America to qualify for lucrative incentives.

Since Hyundai’s Georgia factory won’t be operational until 2025, customers could lose out on the break until then. Kemp accused Democrats of favoring union-backed automakers as he called for Biden and lawmakers to revisit the law.

“We’re going to continue to keep the pressure up on our senators, on the president and on everybody else to do what they said and not pick winners and losers and be fair to everybody,” Kemp said at a stop in Tallulah Gorge, where he unveiled the first round of EV chargers to be built at public state parks.

Gov. Brian Kemp, left, shakes hands with Rivian Chief Legal Officer Michael Callahan on Thursday after unveiling the first-ever Rivian charging station at Tallulah Gorge State Park. Kemp used the event to draw attention to part of the Inflation Reduction Act that all electric vehicles to undergo final assembly in North America to qualify for lucrative tax incentives. Hyundai would not qualify for incentive until it begins operation of a plant near Savannah in 2025. Kemp has asked Congress to revisit the requirement. “We’re going to continue to keep the pressure up on our senators, on the president and on everybody else to do what they said and not pick winners and losers and be fair to everybody,” Kemp said. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson echoed Kemp, saying the Biden administration has “declared war on auto manufacturing in the state of Georgia with these tax credits,” which he warned could ultimately benefit Chinese-owned companies.

“We’re already disadvantaged under this administration in Georgia,” the west Georgia Republican said in an interview, “and we think making sure that America isn’t disadvantaged is the right thing to do.”

A spokesman for Ossoff said Republicans are not painting a true picture of the law, adding that there is no requirement tying the EV tax credits to union representation.

“Gov. Kemp continues to oppose the Inflation Reduction Act even as it attracts billions in manufacturing investment and thousands of jobs to the State of Georgia,” said Jake Best, adding: “As soon as Hyundai is building EVs in Georgia, its vehicles can qualify.”

Democrats say the Republican pushback is shortsighted. John Podesta, a senior White House official, said erasing the incentives could rob Georgians of the financial benefits of the clean energy boom — and allow rival competitors to fill the void.

“Will Georgia Republicans really vote to send tens of thousands of new jobs overseas — including in their own districts — not to reduce the deficit, but to fund more giveaways for billionaires?”

Staff writers Drew Kann and Michael Kanell contributed to this article.

President Joe Biden has opposed GOP efforts to roll back portions of the Inflation Reduction Act that offer green energy tax incentives, telling union organizers in Maryland on Wednesday that it would “undo all the stuff you helped me get done” over his first term. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

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