The debate about overhauling the tax code won't be immune from the fight over President Trump's environmental and climate change policies, activist groups said Wednesday.
The groups are preparing for a major protest this weekend against Trump's environmental policies, which now include the president's tax reform plan.
Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer blasted Trump's tax reform blueprint announced Wednesday as a dangerous proposal that he hopes will be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.
"Trump's corporate tax giveaway would worsen the dangerous imbalance in an economy already rigged in favor of the wealthy and the powerful," Steyer said.
The tax principles, announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, don't mention climate change or renewable energy, which would be expected. But most environmental and activist groups in the last year have broadened their attacks on Trump to include advocating for the poor and middle class.
"Congress must reject Trump's corporate tax giveaway and fight for a fair tax reform designed to strengthen the middle class, spur innovation, and grow our economy," he said. "We need a tax code that puts the needs of struggling American families before the limitless appetites of business owners and employers."
However, the environmental group Friends of the Earth response to the tax reform proposal pointed out how it would benefit "big business cronies" at the expense of the environment as a "reverse Robin Hood" plan.
"Trump's tax plan is a giveaway for corporations and billionaires designed to starve the government," said Lukas Ross, the group's climate and energy campaigner. "Trump's tax plan is a corporate handout for his big business cronies today and an excuse to slash environmental enforcement tomorrow. It's a double win for corporate polluters and a betrayal of anyone who enjoys breathing clean air or drinking clean water," Ross said.
"Congress must reject anything resembling this cruel and elitist proposal," he said.
The tax plan proposes sharp cuts for both corporate and individual income tax rates by reducing the number of tax brackets and eliminating almost all tax deductions. It would include just three brackets: 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent.
Some senators made their priorities for the tax reform bill clear, such as extending tax credits for renewable fuels that were left on the cutting room floor in a major spending bill deal in 2015. Tax subsidies for wind and solar were extended, but other credits for such items as biodiesel were left to expire.
A bipartisan group led by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., introduced legislation Wednesday afternoon with more than a dozen other senators to extend the biodiesel tax credit for three years. The bill also would change the tax credit to provide the subsidy to the companies that produce the fuel, and not the blenders that mix the fuel with regular diesel to be sold at the pump or as a heating fuel.
Older industries, while praising Trump's plan, also want to make sure key deductions for their investments are not slashed in the process.
Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, representing the investor-owned utility industry, said his members "strongly support tax reform because we believe that a simpler tax code, broader tax base and lower tax rates will grow the economy and increase the competitiveness of the United States, support job creation in America and benefit our customers."
His members represent some of the largest companies in the country, whose transition to using more natural gas and less coal has led to the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in the country in the past 25 years. Many of the group's member companies are responsible for running the nation's fleet of zero-emissions nuclear power plants, as well as wind and solar power plants.
Kuhn wants the industry's investments in new energy resources to continue and said the electric utilities will be at the table to help Congress hone the plan into law and protect its interests.
"Our industry is the nation's most capital-intensive industry, and EEI's members invest more than $100 billion each year to build smarter energy infrastructure and to transition to an even cleaner generation fleet," Kuhn said. Because the industry is so capital intensive, the companies need to be able to deduct the interest they accrue in borrowing the capital to make those investments.
The current tax law allows for that, but Kuhn wants to make sure lawmakers understand the issue, so that a key tool in the tax code is not lost.
"As tax reform proposals advance, it is important that interest deductibility for electric companies be maintained to avoid barriers to investment and to keep energy bills as affordable as possible for customers," Kuhn said. "The loss of interest deductibility will increase the cost of capital, which is reflected in electric rates paid by our customers."