WASHINGTON - Major climate and clean energy measures are tucked inside the package of $1.4 trillion in annual spending to fund the government and $900 billion to provide COVID-19 relief approved by Congress late Monday.
It's a rare bit of bipartisan agreement on an issue that has been mostly stalled in Congress while global temperatures rise and climate change-driven disasters pile up.
Environmental groups said the initiative is a start, but much more needs to be done.
The measure provides short-term tax breaks for solar and wind power and for technology to remove planet-warming carbon dioxide from power plant and industrial emissions, known as carbon capture and sequestration.
It phases down the use of extremely powerful greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in cooling systems. Clean-energy research and development get a funding boost as well.
In all there is roughly $35 billion of new funding for renewable technology and energy efficiency in the legislation, according to advocate groups.
"Over the last few years, we found a great deal of cynicism that a bill like this could actually get done," U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of policy Marty Durbin said in a statement. "But passage of this bill will prove that there is common ground on which all sides of the debate can come together."
Durbin described the bill as "truly historic — setting up the biggest action Congress has ever taken to address climate change, and the first energy bill in 13 years."
Greenpeace USA Democracy Campaign Director Folabi Olagbaju called it "a step in the right direction but simply not good enough to meet the magnitude of the moment."
2020 is on track to be the warmest or second-warmest year on record. Scientists say dramatic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions need to happen worldwide, and soon, to avoid catastrophic global warming.
Congress has done little to address the problem since 2010, when a bill aiming to charge polluters for emissions failed in the Senate.
The new spending bill extends an existing tax credit that benefits solar power by two years. It extends a tax credit for land-based wind power by one year and creates a new credit for offshore wind. A credit for carbon capture and sequestration, a technology that is only deployed on commercial scale at a handful of facilities, gets a two-year extension.
The hydrofluorcarbon chemical phase-down brings the United States in line with a United Nations treaty signed by 197 other countries. Business groups supported it, but the measure faced opposition from a few key Republicans concerned about stricter state and local measures creating a patchwork of regulations. The new measure bars them from regulating HFCs for five years.
The wide-ranging spending bill includes a potluck of other measures environmentalists back, including programs to reduce diesel pollution, transition to electric school buses and weatherize low-income homes.
It also reverses Trump administration cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and climate change programs at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.