President Donald Trump’s opposition to a $900 billion coronavirus aid package overwhelmingly passed by U.S. lawmakers late Monday jeopardizes the first significant climate change legislation to win congressional approval in about a decade.
Trump has threatened to veto the stimulus bill, which includes $600 direct checks for individuals and $35 billion in funding for clean energy projects and plans to cut the use of planet-warming chemicals.
The climate provisions included in the deal comes after the Trump administration dismantled more than 80 major environmental rules over four years and shortly before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn into office.
Biden plans to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and use executive orders to unravel many of Trump’s environmental rollbacks. He’s also pushing for a $2 trillion plan, which will need congressional approval, to shift the country from fossil fuels to clean energy and green jobs. Trump officially withdrew the country from the Paris accord in November.
Though Biden’s legislation will likely face immense hurdles if the GOP controls the Senate, which will be decided in January with two pivotal runoff races in Georgia, policy experts and environmental groups say the bipartisan-backed climate measures in the stimulus bill signal that Biden could achieve significant progress in battling global warming. It’s also a sign the U.S. will join a broader global effort to reduce planet-warming fossil fuel emissions.
“The spending bill just passed by Congress, which passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans, hints at the path going forward,” said Michael Mann, a climatologist and professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University. “It’s a positive sign that 2020 may well be the year we turned the corner on climate action in the U.S.”
The stimulus bill will phase out U.S. production and consumption of planet-warming hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 85% over 15 years.
The ozone-depleting chemicals are commonly found in air conditioners and refrigerators. While they comprise a lower percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, hydrofluorocarbons pack 1,000 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.
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HFCs are being targeted by nations worldwide in an effort to curb global warming. A landmark agreement was reached in October 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda, by delegates from 197 nations across the world to phase out HFCs.
So far, 72 countries have ratified the Kigali agreement. Despite support by U.S. manufacturers and chemical companies, the Trump administration has not embraced the pact and instead proposed rolling back Obama-era standards to cut the use of HFCs.
The stimulus package also includes bipartisan renewable energy legislation that would funnel roughly $35 billion of government funds to clean energy projects.
“This bill is the most significant action we have taken for climate this Congress and its passage is strong evidence that there is bipartisan support for working together on climate solutions and investing in advanced energy technologies while also caring for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a statement earlier this week.
The legislation includes tax credits for solar and wind power, which would push forward Biden’s plan to have a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035. The broader bill also includes investments for more sustainable transportation and reauthorizes a program that provides funding for low-income homeowners to upgrade appliances, heat pumps and other household items to clean energy products.
The stimulus package also includes measures to capture and store carbon produced by manufacturing and power plants, cut diesel emissions from some vehicles and fund oil recovery projects.
“Congress made an unprecedented down payment on addressing climate change with this legislation by agreeing to phase down potent HFCs, invest in renewable energy and extend much-need tax incentives for wind and solar,” said Grant Carlisle, a senior policy advisor at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“But this is just a start,” Carlisle said. “In order to address the climate crisis, we need the federal government to accelerate its efforts to transition our economy to clean energy and away from dirty fossil fuels.”