House Ways and Means Committee (copy)

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., speaks with a staffer before the start of a House Ways and Means Committee hearing. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo via AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House has passed a bill extending the deadline for nuclear plants to receive key tax credits, providing a potential lifeline to South Carolina's financially beleaguered V.C. Summer facility.

If advanced by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the bill would help provide the resources for the Jenkinsville plant to complete its reactors. A plant in Georgia would also stand to benefit.

It all goes back to 2005, when Congress created a tax credit to incentivize nuclear power production. Not wanting to subsidize the industry, however, lawmakers put in place a 2020 deadline for plants to complete their work in order to qualify.

Plants in South Carolina and Georgia were the only entities to take advantage of the credits, but the recent bankruptcy filing by Westinghouse Electric has put completion of the two projects in two and half year's time in peril.

A failure to include the tax credit deadline extension in a catch-all government spending bill last month represented a further setback.

On the House floor Tuesday afternoon, sponsor U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, said his bill to remove the deadline requirement would benefit not just South Carolina and Georgia, but the country.

"We need to give these plants the certainty of the tax credits as Congress originally intended," Rice said, "not just for South Carolina and Georgia but for the continued innovation of nuclear energy."

Without the tax credit, Rice warned, "it may be another 30 or 40 years before this country builds another cutting edge nuclear facility."

Rice was joined on the floor by other members of the S.C. congressional delegation.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-Laurens, said passage of the bill was necessary to show the international community that America is "serious about nuclear energy."

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"I rise today to keep the lights on for American nuclear energy," Duncan said. 

"Russia, China and other countries around the world are investing in nuclear energy," said U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the delegation's lone Democrat who rarely sides with his Republican colleagues but did for this bill. "We cannot afford to walk away from these important sources of clean energy for future generations."

One Democrat, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, was the sole lawmaker who rose in opposition to the bill Tuesday. Among other things, he referred to it as a "gift" to the nuclear power industry that does not do enough to guarantee good stewardship of the environment.

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, disputed Doggett's characterization.

"I come from the Lowcountry in South Carolina and we are seeing sea levels rise and we could have a huge debate about what's causing it," he said. "There is a clear scientific consensus of C02 emissions being tied to global warming ... There is no perfect energy source out there. But of the available choices out there, something that address the question is equally important and nuclear does."

If Doggett wanted to continue the fight, he opted to let it go for the time being. Instead of demanding that a roll call vote be taken, the bill passed by voice vote.

Emma Dumain is The Post and Courier's Washington correspondent. Reach her at 843-834-0419 and follow her @emma_dumain.