Perhaps George Ochenski Should Read the Lewis and Zinke Energy Plans

I’ve enjoyed George Ochenski’s “Republicans and Democrats are all the same and hate the environment” schtick as much as anyone over the past twenty years, but now that’s he’s perched in the establishment over at the Missoulian, he should probably start doing some research before writing a column. In today’s piece, Ocheski argues that the energy plans presented by Congressional candidates Ryan Zinke and John Lewis are exactly the same, ending with this line that he’s probably written 4,234 times before:

Bottom line, these guys are two peas in the same extractive industries’ pod on energy, only one has a “D” after his name and the other has an “R.” It’s a crying shame that neither offers Montanans hope for a sane and sustainable energy future.

Had Ochenski taken the time to read the two plans he’d see one critical difference: Lewis supports giving renewable energy providers access to the same tax credits (subsidies) that the oil industry has enjoyed for as long as they’ve been producing crude—and Zinke opposes giving them even this level playing field.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, among many, argues that the production tax credit Lewis and arguing for (and House Republicans) let slip will help level the playing field between wind and fossil fuels:

A long-term extension of the PTC is needed to bring more stability to the wind industry, and help level the playing field with fossil fuels and nuclear power — industries that have received far greater taxpayer support for decades.

But most importantly, the PTC works. With it in place, wind power has dramatically increased, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, driving innovation and economic development, lowering costs, and providing important environmental benefits — including carbon reductions.

All the wind power industry and other renewable providers are asking for is a level playing field that doesn’t keep changing under the feet. The failure of the Republican House to extend those credits and the failure of candidates like Ryan Zinke to support the tax credit extension for a Montana industry like wind leads to a boom and bust cycle that prevents wind from taking off. The Union of Concerned Scientists again:

The cycle begins with the industry experiencing strong growth in development around the country while the PTC is firmly in place, and in the years leading up to the PTC’s expiration. Lapses in the PTC then cause a dramatic slowdown in the implementation of planned wind projects and layoffs at wind companies and manufacturing facilities. Upon restoration, the wind power industry takes time to regain its footing, and then experiences strong growth until the tax credits expire. And so on.

As I’ve noted before—and will continue to do—I don’t agree with Mr. Lewis on the Keystone XL pipeline, but to reduce analysis of his energy policy to that one issue is infantile reductionism. Lewis’s plan acknowledges the simple fact that fossil fuels will continue to provide the lion’s share of US energy for the foreseeable future while working to lay the groundwork for more clean, renewable energy.

That Ochenski can’t see that says more about his myopic vision than it does about John Lewis’s plan.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Don – If you’re so sure of the great differences in the Zinke and Lewis energy plans, why not post ’em on your site and let folks decide for themselves? I did read both plans and, gotta say if you did, too, I’m amazed that you found any significant differences on the MAJOR issues in energy in Montana, which would be coal mining, burning and export and oil and gas fracking. To grasp onto support for an energy tax credit as some great difference is laughable, as surely you must know. Even Lewis’ title says it best “all of the above and below” — what more explanation is needed beyond the plain and simple meaning of those words, Don? I personally don’t mind that you’re a knee-jerk Demo loyalist, but that doesn’t excuse your shallow misrepresentation of the major issues in energy in Montana and the lack of significant difference between Lewis and Zinke.

    • Well, I wonder who might be a more reliable source of information on the importance of a permanent, reliable tax credit for wind–the source I cited or someone who posts anonymously on a blog?

      Calling someone a “knee-jerk Demo loyalist” probably passes as witty repartee at your Earth First: Tree Spiking with Sciatica Conference, but it’s not an argument in the real world. Bring some research to the table.

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