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Isakson confident Congress will quickly approve Vogtle money

WASHINGTON -- We have you covered on Capitol Hill.

That's the message Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has for backers of the troubled Vogtle nuclear plant less than two days before the state's utility commissioners are scheduled to vote on the project's future.

To the frustration of Vogtle's boosters, a provision ensuring the project would collect an estimated $800 million in tax credits -- money organizers had baked into their financial estimates -- was left out of the House-Senate tax plan that's making a beeline toward President Donald Trump's desk.

But Isakson on Tuesday projected confidence that similar language could pass both chambers of Congress as part of a separate package of energy-related tax provisions later this year or in early 2018.

"I am personally confident it's going to get done," said the Republican, who has become one of the project's top advocates on Capitol Hill.

"Everything that could be done has been done and everything we have to overcome is procedural, not difficult," he added.

Lawmakers have approved similar packages of so called energy tax "extenders" in past years, typically as part of the year-end legislative rush.

Stan Wise, the chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, told his fellow utility regulators late last week that he had received assurances from the offices of Isakson and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that Congress would soon take up the nuclear provisions, the energy trade publication E&E News reported earlier Tuesday.

Understanding Congress' intentions is critical for the five utility commissioners who will decide on Dec. 21 whether the companies behind the $23 billion Vogtle can pass more expenses onto their ratepayers.

The Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees have yet to release any wrap-up energy tax packages, and spokespeople for Ryan and the Senate panel did not respond to a request for comment.

Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said Monday that lawmakers would discuss the nuclear tax credits "after we get the tax reform bill done." The legislation passed the chamber on Tuesday afternoon, but lawmakers will need to re-vote on Wednesday morning due to a procedural issue in the Senate.

Nuclear industry lobbyists are pushing for Republican leaders to attach the nuclear language to a stopgap government funding plan Congress must pass by Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday did not list the tax credits as something that's on his to-do list for the bill. Isakson said it was also possible that lawmakers could wait until January to act and make the provision retroactive, but he wouldn't speculate on timing.

"I'm not going to put a date on it because y'all will then make it a benchmark," he said, referring to reporters.

Construction of third and fourth reactors at Vogtle has been marred by cost overruns and delays that threaten the viability of the project. The Capitol Hill language would eliminate the 2021 sunset date for the previously-promised tax credits, since the new units are not projected to be operational until 2022.

Read more:

GOP tax bill offers no help to Georgia nuclear project

Plant Vogtle’s fate could shake up next year’s race for Georgia governor

As Vogtle vote looms, Tim Echols asks: ‘Do you want to leave that stuff rusting ‘til Jesus comes?’

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.