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President Donald Trump’s opposition to a $ 900 billion coronavirus bailout package, largely passed by U.S. lawmakers late Monday, jeopardizes the first major climate change piece of legislation to have received Congress approval in about a decade.
Trump has threatened a veto on the stimulus package, which includes $ 600 direct checks for individuals and $ 35 billion to fund clean energy projects, and plans to reduce the use of chemicals to warm the planet.
The climate changes included in the deal come after the Trump administration slashed more than 80 key environmental regulations in four years and just before President-elect Joe Biden took office.
Biden plans to re-join the Paris Agreement and use executive orders to expose many of Trump’s environmental setbacks. He is also pushing for a $ 2 trillion plan, which requires Congressional approval, to move the country from fossil fuels to clean energy and green jobs. Trump officially withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement in November.
Although Biden’s legislation is likely to face immense hurdles if the GOP controls the Senate, which will be decided with two crucial runoff elections in Georgia in January, policy experts and environmental groups say the bipartite-backed climate action in the stimulus package signals that Biden can achieve this could make significant strides in combating global warming. It is also a sign that the US will join a broader global effort to reduce fossil fuel emissions to warm the planet.
“The spending bill just passed by Congress, with support from both Democrats and Republicans, points the way ahead,” said Michael Mann, climatologist and professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University. “It’s a positive sign that 2020 could be the year we turned around the corner on climate action in the US.”
The stimulus package will halt US production and consumption of planet-warming fluorocarbons (HFC) by 85% over a 15-year period.
The ozone-depleting chemicals are often found in air conditioners and refrigerators. While they make up a smaller percentage of greenhouse gas emissions, fluorocarbons pack 1000 times the heat storage capacity of carbon dioxide.
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HFCs are used by nations around the world in a targeted manner to curb global warming. In October 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda, a landmark agreement was reached by delegates from 197 nations around the world to phase out HFCs.
So far 72 countries have ratified the Kigali Agreement. Despite the support of U.S. manufacturers and chemical companies, the Trump administration did not accept the pact and instead proposed to reset the Obama-era standards to reduce the use of HFCs.
The stimulus package also includes bipartisan renewable energy legislation, which will provide around $ 35 billion in government funding for clean energy projects.
“This bill is the most important measure we have taken to climate change 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 being the strongest Our nation’s vulnerable citizens are cared for, “said Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., said in a statement earlier this week.
The legislation includes solar and wind power tax credits that would fuel Biden’s plan to have a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035. The broader bill also includes investments for more sustainable transport and re-approves 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 from production and power plants, reduce diesel emissions from some vehicles, and finance oil exploration projects.
“Congress made an unprecedented downside to tackling climate change with this legislation by agreeing to phase out effective HFCs, invest in renewables, and extend much-needed tax incentives for wind and solar,” said Grant Carlisle, senior Policy Advisor at Natural Resource Defense Council.
“But that’s just a start,” said Carlisle. “In order to cope with the climate crisis, the federal government must accelerate its efforts to convert our economy to clean energy and away from dirty fossil fuels.”