Congress Got Climate Help In Your Stimulus Bill!
In one of those weird things that you don't hear about until it's a done deal (OK, that we didn't hear about until this morning), it turns out that the $900 billion stimulus bill has a nice chunk of change — about $35 billion — for US climate policy tucked into it, according to the Washington Post. Fact Check: We suspect the Post has that slightly wrong, and that the green provisions are actually part of the great big omnibus spending bill that the stimmy bill was bundled with, which is how GreenTech Media is reporting it. Since Donald Trump is getting all pissy about things in the larger spending bill that aren't in the stimulus part of the bill, the distinction became more important last night. (Grist though also reports that it's specifically in the stimulus bill, not the spending bill, which again are two different things.)
Either way, it's good news for the climate, because in addition to a bunch of spending on various green energy programs and tax incentives, the legislation will outlaw an entire class of chemicals, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), that are seriously bad contributors to the greenhouse effect. As Greenpeace 'splained in a 2009 report, HFCs, used as refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigerators, are "'super-greenhouse gases.' Molecule for molecule, some of them have the capacity to heat the planet thousands of times more than carbon dioxide." If the roughly 300 grams of HFC-134 gas in the average modern refrigerator were released into the atmosphere, that's roughly equivalent to "the carbon emissions from driving a Volkswagen Golf, for example, from London to Moscow."
Or worse, now, seeing as how the 2020 Golf gets seven miles per gallon more than the 2009 model. And you certainly don't want the GTI if you're buying used, because some kid has probably driven the hell out of it, to Moscow and back, and probably crashed into a refrigerator we bet. Kids these days!
As the Post explains,
The HFC measure, which empowers the EPA to cut the production and use of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 15 years, is expected to save as much as half a degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century. Scientists say the world needs to constrain the increase in the average global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times to avoid catastrophic, irreversible damage to the planet.
Preventing half a degree C of warming is huge. As the 2018 IPCC report emphasized, the difference between 1.5 degrees C since the start of the industrial age and 2 degrees is the difference between bad things happening and extremely bad things happeningall over the planet.
We were also surprised to learn that the provision cutting HFCs was a top priority of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, although we'd be a lot more impressed if she hadn't also forced opening up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling as part of the 2017 Big Fat Tax Cut for Rich Fuckwads. No Ranger Rick hat for you, Madam Senator! No, not even though that 2017 tax law did one good thing, by preserving tax credits for electric cars and for solar and wind power.
The bill also provides some $35 billion in spending for a variety of tax incentives, research and development in green technology, and other initiatives; that will include
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.
If you want further detail, here's a fairly complete rundown of where the money's going.
And just to raise a middle finger in Donald Trump's general direction (don't tell him until after he signs it!), there's also $2.9 billion for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds all sorts of advanced energy research, and which every single one of Trump's budget requests has sought to zero out. Come Jan. 20, Trump will be gone and ARPA-E will still be investigating a host of cool stuff, with the aim of moving promising energy tech from the lab to eventual commercial viability.
The bill will also extend clean energy tax cuts for wind and solar that were set to expire, and creates
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." One Department of Energy analysis suggested that developing just 4 percent of the total U.S. offshore wind capacity could power some 25 million homes and reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by almost 2 percent.
Sadly, we suspect there won't be any enhancement to the tax credits for developing offshore wind projects within sight of Mar-a-Lago. There certainly should be.
And like the pared-down stimulus bill, the new legislation is a really good start on green stimulus, but there's plenty more to work on once Joe Biden is in office. Extending the clean energy tax cuts is nice, but Biden's climate plan calls for considerably more to be done, like subsidies for electric vehicles (including a commitment to ramp up purchases of zero-emissions cars and light trucks for federal vehicle fleets) and other efforts to use the government's purchasing power to cut emissions. Not to mention one of Biden's biggest goals, requiring that electric utilities reach net zero carbon emissions by 2035.
As the Post points out, the bill also didn't include a provision that had been in previous versions, which would have "set voluntary standards for energy efficiency in buildings — something that could significantly curb emissions from cities."
Did Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer discuss the bill by using a Donald Rumsfeldian rhetorical question? Yes he did:
Let's be clear: Are these provisions enough to meet the demands of the science? No [...] But are they a significant step in the right direction? Yes.
All in all, it's pretty exciting stuff, and Joe Biden isn't even in office yet. I'm going to dare to hope this is just the start of some serious change.
Assuming, of course, that President Babyman doesn't just veto the whole thing.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.