Covid Stimulus has Big Climate Provisions

December 22, 2020

The Covid stimulus bill, passed last night, had some surprising provisions for climate action, that may set the stage for what a Biden administration can do.
Significantly, these measures passed with support from Republican members, who have been looking for a way to pivot on climate. This might have opened the door.

I get it that we need more Covid relief, and the measly 600 bucks is inadequate, but we’re in an emergency here.


Washington Post:

In one of the biggest victories for U.S. climate action in a decade, Congress has moved to phase out a class of potent planet-warming chemicals and provide billions of dollars for renewable energy and efforts to suck carbon from the atmosphere as part of the $900 billion coronavirus relief package.

The legislation, which Congress approved moments before midnight Monday, wraps together several bills with bipartisan backing and support from an unusual coalition of environmentalists and industry groups.

It will cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigerators that are hundreds of times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide. It authorizes a sweeping set of new renewable energy measures, including tax credit extensions and new research and development programs for solar, wind and energy storage; funding for energy efficiency projects; upgrades to the electric grid and a new commitment to research on removing carbon from the atmosphere. And it reauthorizes an Environmental Protection Agency program to curb emissions from diesel engines.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), an ally of President-elect Joe Biden and co-sponsor of the HFC provision, called it “a watershed moment” that bodes well for lawmakers interested in working with the incoming administration on climate change.

“The debate on whether climate change is real is over. It is real. It’s not getting better,” Carper said in a recent interview. “Our Republican colleagues, they get it, for the most part.”

The agreement comes on the heels of a major United Nations climate report, which found that nations’ current plans to reduce greenhouse gasses are just one-fifth of what’s needed to avoid catastrophic warming.

“Let’s be clear: Are these provisions enough to meet the demands of the science? No,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y). “But are they a significant step in the right direction? Yes.”

The HFC rule lays the groundwork for the United States to sign onto the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement in which more than 100 nations committed to replacing the chemicals with refrigerants that have a smaller climate impact. Signed in the final days of the Obama administration, the treaty was never submitted by Trump for ratification by the Senate. By voting to curb the climate pollutant now, Congress has eased the path for approval once Biden takes office.

Included in the energy package are roughly $4 billion for solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal research and development; $1.7 billion to help low-income families install renewable energy sources in their homes; $2.6 billion for the Energy Department’s sustainable transportation program; and $500 million for research on reducing industrial emissions.

In a boon for renewable energy companies, Congress extended tax credits for wind and solar and introduced a new credit for offshore wind projects, which Heather Zichal, chief executive of the American Clean Power Association, called “America’s largest untapped clean energy source.” 


While HFC regulation is the crowning jewel of the bill’s climate action items, it also includes $35.2 billion for research on carbon removal, renewables, energy storage, and other low-carbon technologies, as well as extending key tax clean energy tax credits. With just a month until Biden’s inauguration, the stimulus sets up president Donald Trump—who spent the last four years dismantling climate policies and quitting the Paris agreement—to leave a lasting, positive impact on the climate.

New York Times:

American chemical companies have actually been among the strongest supporters of the Kigali pact and the HFC bill, because most already manufacture the more climate-friendly HFC replacements and a phaseout would put them at a competitive advantage over manufacturers of the older technology.

Stephen Yurek, the chief executive of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an industry group, was in Kigali four years ago to push for the deal. He has spent the past two years lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill to enact it into law.

“U.S. companies are already the leaders with the technology that has been developed to replace the less environmentally-friendly refrigerants,” he said. “This bill is a victory for the manufacturers of all these products — not just the refrigerants; the equipment and component manufacturers,” he said.

Mr. Yurek said his industry has also worried that at least eight states have passed laws of their own requiring HFC reductions and creating a patchwork of rules, “which makes it harder for manufacturers.”

The push by industry brought along Senate Republicans, at least 16 of whom signed on as sponsors to the legislation, which was jointly written by Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana. Mr. Kennedy’s state is home to hundreds of chemical manufacturing facilities; he framed the bill as a job creator for those companies.

The bill would not appropriate any new government spending, but it would authorize $35 billion in existing government funding to be spent on clean energy programs over the next five years, including $1 billion for energy storage technology that could serve as batteries for wind and solar power, $1.5 billion for demonstration projects for new solar technology, $2.1 billion for advanced nuclear energy technology and $450 million for technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The bill would also direct federal agencies to update the government programs that oversee renewable energy spending.

“Some of these will be the first updates to these programs since the iPhone was first in use,” said Josh Freed, an energy policy analyst with Third Way, a center-left research organization. “It’s critically important because energy systems looked a lot different 10 years ago. There were almost no EVs on the road, very little solar panels on roofs, Tesla didn’t exist.”

For all the celebratory language, climate change will likely remain a partisan land mine. Mr. Yurek, the lobbyist for the coolant industry, said that he was hesitant to even use the word “climate” when talking about the bill, for fear that Mr. Trump would veto any legislation that is seen as boosting Mr. Biden’s agenda.

“We didn’t want to give him any excuse to not sign it,” Mr. Yurek said.

Dr Leah Stokes, energy policy ace from UC Barbara had some bullets on her twitter feed:

Big top lines: – HFC phaseout 85% by 2035

– 35 billion on energy RD&D
– Energy tax extenders
– Reforms + extensions for DOE programs
– Electricity bill assistance for renters
– Permitting improvements for renewables on fed lands
– Efficiency, including fed buildings

Energy tax credit extenders:

– ITC: 2 years (2022)
– PTC: 1 year (2021)
– Offshore wind ITC: 5 years (2025)
– EV tax credit: DOES NOT EXIST
Short extensions.
And the lack of EV tax credit is very bad.
But: overall glad to see some ITC/PTC extensions!

The bill includes $35.2 spending for energy:
– $4.1 bn: renewables
– $1.7 bn: reauthorization WAP + add renewables
– $2.6 bn: DOE sustainable transport
– $6.2 bn: CCUS – $1.1 bn: energy storage
– $2.4 bn: smart grid – $6.6 bn: advanced nuclear
– $4.7 bn: fusion – $2.9 bn: ARPA-E

The federal government itself is an important driver of clean energy adoption and innovation. One key change? The bill requires that if there’s a cost effective efficiency upgrade for a federal building, it must be done.

Overall, I am very happy these provisions passed. There do not add up to enough on climate. But they are certainly better than nothing!

6 Responses to “Covid Stimulus has Big Climate Provisions”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    “American chemical companies have actually been among the strongest supporters of the Kigali pact and the HFC bill, because most already manufacture the more climate-friendly HFC replacements and a phaseout would put them at a competitive advantage over manufacturers of the older technology.”

    Uh, no.

    “The Montreal Protocol [including Kigali] was a compromise protecting US chemical corporations profit.
    In 1991, the United Nations Environment Programme warned that the development of new chemicals like HCFCs, which were incrementally better for the environment, could block an immediate transition to low cost, ozone- and climate-friendly alternatives like propane.”
    UL (a private company) blocked propane as a refrigerant in the US by reducing the allowable levels to useless amounts.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      “Most university economics courses currently promote societal psychopathology as a human ideal” David Korten

      Over and over and over and over we’ve been betrayed by corporations and the ultraconservatives working with them to put their profits—and even more, their dominance and privilege—above the lives of people, the survival of species and ecosystems. Now they’re putting just a few more years of profit above the survival of all life on Earth. It took me years of research and slowly-dawning understanding of the motivations behind their psychopathic behavior to admit the obvious—that we will not survive as a coherent civilization as long as corporations and the economic system are what they are now.

      Capitalism is not the ultimate cause of the crises we face but it certainly is a monumentally stupid and destructive way to organize our relationship to each other and the rest of nature. It’s both a sorry manifestation and a cause of our psychopathology.

      So maybe it’s time to look for a wiser way to make what we need while leaving intact what we need to make it.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    It’s absolutely inexcusable that there’s more than 3 times more money in the bill for non-existent technologies than there is for clean safe renewable energy; more money just for the fusion pipe dream that in the best possible circumstances will be decades too late to help with the current crisis than there is for wind and solar. (Those last 2 can provide almost all our additional energy needs in a decade.) We’ve spent almost $10 trillion on oil wars in the last 20 years, many trillions more giving tax money to mbillionaires, hundreds of billions subsidizing the fuels we have to get rid of as fast as possible, and not paying for their horrific health and ecological effects.

    To short clean safe renewable energy in favor of worse-than-useless corrupt enterprises like CCS of any kind, and nukes of any kind, to this extent, at this late date, is insane. There are 2 essential problems in the kind of chicken and egg dilemma (oak & acorn?) that’s standard when the unconscious mind is involved. Since it’s involved with everything, we should pay attention.

    1. Oak: people, especially on the right of course, deny the seriousness and speed of the crisis, and that limits the size and nature of the solutions they’ll consider.
    2. Acorn: because of psycho-ideological disabilities, those same people oppose the solutions required. So they deny the seriousness off the crisis.

    • doldrom Says:

      Yes, the CCS is distressing. I’ve never been convinced that this sort of techno-mirages serves any other purpose than to get money to multi-nationals mouthing platitudes.

  3. Why does everybody assume we’ve passed this? It doesn’t pass without the president’s signature, and since he’s eating all his crayons right now, it’s highly unlikely.

  4. doldrom Says:

    Yes, the CCS is distressing. I’ve never been convinced that this sort of techno-mirages serves any other purpose than to get money to multi-nationals mouthing platitudes.

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