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Coronavirus Relief Efforts To Help Energy Industry Stall On Capitol Hill


How should the United States help the energy business? The oil industry has more petroleum than it can sell. The solar industry warns that up to half its jobs could be lost this year, and rescue efforts in Washington have so far stalled. NPR's Jeff Brady is on the line from Philadelphia. Jeff, good morning.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the president promising to do for the energy industry?

BRADY: Well, he has instructed the secretaries of energy and treasury to come up with a plan to make money available specifically to the oil and gas industry. It's not really clear what that means. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the administration is looking at federal loans for the oil industry.

There's been talk of the government buying a bunch of oil. The Energy Department already is making space available for lease in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and that takes oil off the market. That's pretty important now because there is a huge glut of crude around the world. Demand is way down. People aren't traveling. And part of that glut of oil is coming from other countries, like Saudi Arabia. And there's also been talk of putting anti-dumping tariffs on that oil. But none of these ideas have really gained any traction themselves.

INSKEEP: Maybe part of the problem is there's so many different ideas. But what does the industry itself want?

BRADY: And that is even difficult to answer because it's not one monolithic oil industry in this country. There are hundreds of companies of different sizes. They have competing interests. For example, some of them would like to see reduced federal royalties for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or on federal land. But that really does nothing for drillers in South Texas who are working on private land. They might prefer government loans.

A few states are taking action on their own. Texas and Oklahoma are considering mandatory production cuts. That would be pretty extraordinary. Some states are giving oil companies more time to pay taxes. One of those states is Louisiana. That is where the Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, he expressed frustration just this last week that the oil industry wasn't included in some of these federal relief packages.


JOHN BEL EDWARDS: Obviously, that would be helpful to the industry, and it'd be helpful to states like Louisiana that are as reliant upon that particular industry and economic sector as we are.

BRADY: At one point, Congress did consider appropriating $3 billion to fill up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, but Democrats blocked that, arguing that if lawmakers are going to help the oil companies, they should help renewable energy, too.

INSKEEP: Jeff, we've just been talking about oil and gas here, but we earlier mentioned solar, renewable energy. Is there any chance the government could support the renewable energy industry the way the Obama administration did in the aftermath of the Great Recession?

BRADY: You know, the political landscape is a lot different now. President Trump and many Republicans in Congress, they're a lot more focused on helping fossil fuel industries, including coal. Some still express skepticism about climate change. But for the wind and solar companies, this is getting to be a really serious problem. The solar industry, as you said, it estimates it's going to lose up to half of its 250,000 jobs this year if nothing is done.


BRADY: I talked with Abigail Ross Hopper. She's president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. She says helping renewable energy makes good policy sense because it also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

ABIGAIL ROSS HOPPER: Being able to really solve two challenges at once seems like a really smart solution. So the solar industry creates lots of jobs. We create lots of economic opportunity. We create lots of tax base. But we also help solve the climate crisis.

BRADY: And that really fits with what U.N. and international energy agency officials say countries should be doing now - making sure economic relief packages address this other urgent threat from the warming climate.

INSKEEP: Is it clear what renewable energy companies want?

BRADY: Well, they would like some more flexibility in how they use their tax credits. And maybe, down the road, they'd like to see some of those tax credits extended.

INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks for the update.

BRADY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jeff Brady. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.