A push to include solar and wind energy tax credits in the United States’ US$2-trillion emergency stimulus package to address the coronavirus pandemic stalled out this week, after Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected to including the relief measures in the bill.
Democrats and U.S. climate hawks “scored a win by nixing $3 billion in oil purchases for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” but “Republicans struck back by stripping out clean energy provisions Democrats had insisted were necessary to offset the spending on fossil fuels, such as a provision tying $33 billion in bailout money for airlines to a 50% reduction in emissions,” Bloomberg Green reports.
“As congressional leaders assembled the spending bill, the push for clean energy drew fierce opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and conservative critics, who accused Democrats of trying to exploit the urgent need for coronavirus relief to foist an environmental agenda on a wounded country,” the news agency adds.
Utility Dive has details of McConnell’s pushback. “Why are Democrats filibustering the bipartisan bill they helped write?” he asked on the Senate floor Monday. “Are you kidding me?…Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal.”
In the end, the Senate bill passed unanimously, with $367 billion earmarked for small billion loans, $500 billion for what Utility Dive calls “corporate aid”, $1,200 for each U.S. citizen earning less than $75,000 per year, and climate conversations left on hold. “This is not a moment of celebration but rather one of necessity,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Like all compromise legislation, this bill is far from perfect. There are many issues that could have and would have been resolved differently if Democrats were in the majority.”
“Some folks in Congress and in other parts of Washington, DC are suggesting this is a bunch of liberals angling for the Green New Deal, and these are coastal elites that just want to pad their investments in clean energy,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). But the sector mostly consists of “boot strap-and-jeans guys,” he added, the same “everyday Americans who are struggling.” (Disclosure: The Energy Mix publisher Mitchell Beer is a member of E2.)
Solar lobbyists have warned that half of the industry’s jobs are at risk, with panels stranded in other countries and lockdown orders preventing local installations, Bloomberg notes. Wind developers, meanwhile, “are racing to get projects in service so they don’t lose some of the value of the renewable energy tax credits that will start being phased out for turbines next year.”
Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president of the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund, said the failure of Democrats’ efforts on aviation emissions was a missed opportunity. “As our country faces the onslaught of the coronavirus, we need quick action to protect our health and economy,” she said. “But Congress must ensure that federal assistance to companies does not make the climate crisis worse for our children by increasing pollution.”
The Trump administration is still pushing ahead with oil and gas lease sales, at a time when record low oil prices will translate into deep discounts for fossils buying up the land, and Bloomberg says the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to waive “a slew of compliance obligations for numerous polluting industries,” including oil and gas.
But there may well be more federal money to come. “Renewable energy advocates remain cautiously optimistic that Congress will dedicate funding in future stimulus bills to clean energy programs and expand tax incentives propelling wind and solar power,” Bloomberg writes, “even if it has to come as a trade for spending on oil or other Republican priorities. Electric vehicle proponents see an opportunity to expand the existing credit and lift manufacturer-specific caps. New weatherization and efficiency programs—even initiatives to retrofit street lights—are also being pitched as a way to help curb energy use and emissions while creating new jobs.”
Bloomberg notes that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included $90 billion for renewable energy and energy efficiency. That investment is “credited with driving a rapid expansion in the sector, including the creation of 3.4 million jobs.”
“We really need to shift from economic triage, which is what this stimulus bill does, to something that’s more long-lasting and that can really get America back to work,” said E2’s Keefe. “We did it in 2009. We can do it again now, and clean energy really needs to be a part of that.”
“Every small business in clean power should be asking for a small business loan under the terms of the new legislation,” said Coalition for Green Capital founder and CEO Reed Hundt, who served on the Obama Administration’s 2008 transition team at the height of the last economic crash. And after that, “Congress is going to need to pass a ‘Get America working again’ law,” he told Utility Dive. “We’re going to have about 10 million unemployed, and at least a million need to get new jobs in the clean energy sector.”