Corporate interests aren’t the only ones seeking a piece of the $2 trillion bailout plan working its way through Congress. Environmentalists are also eager to attach strings to the emergency aid—and drawing the ire of Republicans.
Environmental groups and their allies on Capitol Hill see the federal funding as a chance to lock in climate-friendly policies such as tax credits to propel renewable energy and requirements for airlines to pare their greenhouse gas emissions.
“This economic stimulus package should not exacerbate two other ongoing crises: climate change and environmental injustice,” more than a dozen environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, said in a letter to congressional leaders Friday. “Now is the time to support communities” suffering from the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and toxic pollution—“not bail out polluting industries and put our health at further risk.”
Republicans are blasting the push as an effort to ram controversial policies through the Congress by exploiting urgent concerns about the U.S. economy as the spreading coronavirus forces restaurants, factories and stores to close operations.
“Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday.
While there are no signs Democratic leaders in Congress are advancing that broad and controversial plan for decarbonizing the U.S. economy from freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, some Democrats have lobbied for expanded wind and solar tax credits to be included in federal aid legislation.
Democrats are considering climate and renewable energy provisions as a way to offset the Senate Republican bill’s plan to spend $3 billion buying crude for the U.S. emergency stockpile known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Renewable backers have pushed Democrats to use that as leverage.
“As long as the SPR money is in play, we have a chance,” Jigar Shah, co-founder of the green venture firm Generate Capital Inc., said in a tweet advocating an extension of a tax credit benefiting the solar industry.
The League of Conservation Voters wants Congress to ensure any stimulus package includes support for electric vehicles as well as funding for transit and green infrastructure projects.
Environmentalists and some Democratic lawmakers also have pushed for provisions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes, noting that air travel now accounts for about 2.5% of total carbon dioxide emissions globally.
Conservationists have outlined a raft of plans meant to reduce the environmental footprint of foreign-flagged cruise operators. They are pushing Congress to require cruise lines that receive emergency aid to abandon open-loop scrubber systems that discharge air pollution rather than sequestering it on board.
They also want docked cruise ships to rely on power from shore rather than running off diesel fuel, because of the associated exhaust.
“Financial assistance should be paired with requirements that companies act in a more responsible fashion,” eight Democratic senators, led by Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, said in a letter last week. “If we give the airline and cruise industries assistance without requiring them to be better environmental stewards, we would miss a major opportunity.”