Tipton pulls support for natural gas tax breaks

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton was one of three Colorado congressmen who this week took his name off a bill designed to boost the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel.

The measure, which awaits a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, aims to provide billions of dollars in tax credits to encourage the deployment of more natural-gas powered trucks.

But Tipton, along with U.S. Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman, were among nine Republicans to pull their names off the bipartisan bill. The measure, introduced by U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., still has 186 other cosponsors, including U.S. Reps. Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette, both Colorado Democrats.

That doesn’t mean Tipton opposes the idea, said his spokesman, Josh Green.

“The bill is an important first step to weening ourselves off OPEC oil. The congressman acknowledges that,” Green said. “But once we put our name on the bill, he got a lot of feedback from constituents who asked him to take a closer look at it. He is of the opinion that any comprehensive natural gas legislation needs to include a production component ... expediting the permitting and leasing process. He is looking to kind of solve that problem.”

Green said the congressman plans to introduce his own measure to streamline the leasing of federal lands for natural gas development that would include a tax credit to encourage its use as a transportation fuel.

Sullivan’s bill is a cornerstone to a plan touted by energy billionaire T. Boone Pickens to ease the nation off foreign oil. That plan includes more oil drilling in the nation along with an increased use of alternative energy sources, such as natural gas as a transportation fuel. As a result, it won support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Colorado Democrats said Tipton’s reason for taking his name off the bill makes no sense.

“Had Representative Tipton checked the bill when it was first introduced — he co-sponsored it one day after it was dropped (in April) — he would have known months ago that there was no direct production part of the bill,” said Matt Inzeo, spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party. “The bill expands the market for natural gas, and with a larger market comes higher demand. Higher demand for a Colorado resource will spur greater production. That’s the entire idea behind a free-market solution.”

Other critics accuse Tipton and the other Republicans who pulled their names off the bill of kowtowing to conservative groups that are campaigning against it, such as Americans for Prosperity and its chief benefactors, brothers David and Charles Koch, who are major contributors to Republican candidates.

The Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries is deeply involved in oil production, have lobbied against the idea, saying the market should dictate what industries do, and government tax credits unfairly create winners and losers. Meanwhile, the brothers’ company benefits from oil and ethanol tax credits.

During last year’s race, the Koch Industries Political Action Committee donated $2,500 to Tipton’s campaign, according to fillings with the Federal Elections Commission. It also spent about $5,000 on advertisements opposing the Republican’s 3rd Congressional District opponent, former U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat.

The committee also gave $12,500 to Gardner last year and spent several thousand dollars on ads in helping that Republican win the 4th Congressional District from incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey. Coffman, a Republican who represents the 6th District, received no direct contributions from the brothers.

But critics who raised those contributions as a possible reason why the Republicans dropped their names from the bill fail to mention that Sullivan, the Oklahoma sponsor of the measure, has received $37,500 from the Kochs over the past decade.

“All three Republican congressmen are abandoning a Colorado industry that generates 137,000 jobs due to pressure from Washington lobbyists and insiders,” said Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party. “There will be some awkward meetings back home when congressmen Coffman, Gardner and Tipton have to explain why Colorado jobs aren’t as important as the demands of Washington lobbyists.”

Green said that’s not likely. He said that while some of Tipton’s constituents initially praised him for cosponsoring the measure, many more criticized him for doing so, saying it only adds to federal spending.

Green added that while some on Capitol Hill philosophically oppose using tax credits to boost markets, Tipton isn’t one of them.

“He’s not opposed to tax credits,” Green said. “I anticipate he’ll vote for the bill.”

In a related matter, the U.S. Senate voted 59–40 Wednesday against an amendment to end tax credits for ethanol development. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall voted against the amendment. A similar amendment is expected to come up for a vote in the House soon.

Green said Tipton, chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, believes the amendment “warrants careful consideration.”


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