Congress Set to Pass Important COVID-19 Relief and Clean Energy Measures in Omnibus Bill

Published Dec 21, 2020

WASHINGTON (December 21, 2020)—Congress is set to vote on an omnibus funding package that would help people weather the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and also help ensure that the U.S. economy continues to shift to cleaner energy.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches new heights, the crushing health and economic burden to people has been greatly worsened by government’s failure to act,” said Kathleen Rest, the executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Yes, we all need to wear masks and socially distance, but millions of people are being forced to make the impossible choice between paying for food and rent and going into work that may put themselves and their family members at risk. It’s a relief that Congress is finally providing aid, including rental and unemployment assistance, for people in need.”

More assistance will be needed in the coming year, including aid for state, local and tribal governments struggling with massive budget gaps, as well as additional funds to support public transit, which many essential workers use to get to work and yet is financially strapped due to decreased ridership overall, Rest noted.

Congress also did the right thing by including clean energy provisions in the legislative package, particularly the extension of clean energy tax incentives that were set to phase down and expire, according to UCS.

“Clean energy was the biggest job creating sector in the economy pre-COVID,” said Rob Cowin, Director of Government Affairs for Climate and Energy at UCS.

Extending the renewable electricity production- and investment- tax credits will create jobs, keep projects moving and incentivize future clean energy development, while helping businesses keep workers on payrolls.

“These tax credits have been the main federal policy driving the expansion of renewable energy,” said Cowin. “We can’t afford to ease up on supporting clean energy deployment because we are running out of time to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Clean energy can be an important driver of our economic recovery, too.”

The omnibus bill also includes a provision that sharply phases down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases primarily used for cooling and refrigeration, as well as additional support for energy storage R&D and increased funding for the federal government’s flagship clean energy innovation program, ARPA-E. However, the bill is overly generous to nuclear power and carbon capture and storage relative to renewables and excludes important environmental justice provisions that were part of the House bill, according to Cowin.

“With EJ communities bearing the brunt of pollution from our legacy of reliance on fossil fuels, and marginalized and left out of the public health and economic benefits of energy efficiency and clean energy, Congress must prioritize clean energy access, workforce development, and economic investment in communities that most need them early in 2021.”

Moreover, the bill also leaves out important clean vehicle provisions that were included in the House-passed energy bill and reduces the loans available through the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program by nearly two billion dollars. Cowin noted that Congress still must prioritize passing legislation that significantly cuts emissions and accelerates clean energy and electric vehicle deployment, not only in the future, but right now.

“While it is positive that Congress was able to make some good progress on climate in this package, the science tells us that we have ten years to significantly bend the emissions curve. It is too late in the game to focus so lopsidedly on R&D and neglect deployment of the many here-and-now clean energy and transportation solutions. We are going to need a real commitment from Congress on sustained support for clean energy and clean transportation going forward.”