Energy & Environment

Green groups push for environmental protections in stimulus package

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Green groups see the coronavirus stimulus package as a way to push for environmental measures, an idea that’s gaining traction in the Democratic-led House but contributing to stalled negotiations in the GOP-run Senate.

Organizations are calling for checks on industries heavily involved in the production and use of fossil fuels and offering tax incentives to renewable energy producers.

The House seems to be heeding their calls, with a proposal from the chamber’s Democrats including provisions that would crack down on pollution from the airline industry.

Republicans, while opposed to the environmental measures, have thrown their support behind efforts to shore up the struggling oil and gas industry, including $3 billion to buy oil for the nation’s petroleum reserve. 

“Instead of throwing money into building out the strategic petroleum reserve, we should be going to build out technology for the future like developing electric vehicles and battery storage,” Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, told The Hill.

“Because when we come out of this, we shouldn’t be dependent on cheap fossil fuels and continue to drive emissions up. We should be driving cleaner cars and trying to make progress on climate change,” Pierce added.

Lawmakers have been pushing for an array of economic initiatives as various sectors of the economy suffer greatly because of the coronavirus.

Oil prices have decreased amid lowered demand and increased production by Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, with fewer people traveling, airlines and cruise lines have been hit. 

As lawmakers seek to bolster those areas, which are often criticized for their impacts on the environment, green groups are pushing for that aid to come with strings. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wrote to congressional leaders last week saying that relief should be done “with climate solutions in mind rather than perpetuating the status quo.”

The organization endorsed reducing airline emissions and reliance on fossil fuels in addition to other environmental measures such as replacing lead service lines and incentivizing clean energy and energy efficiency in business and infrastructure. 

Gina McCarthy, NRDC president and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, told The Hill in a statement that a stimulus package should also promote a strong economy in the long run.

“That means investment in cleaner, smarter ways to power our future that will create jobs and safer, healthier communities,” McCarthy said. 

Similarly, the group Friends of the Earth (FOE) on Sunday sent an action alert to its members saying that Congress shouldn’t “exploit coronavirus to bail out Big Polluters.”

“I’m hopeful that Democrats can actually prevail over the Republicans that want to give [a] … slush fund to various corporations that the Trump administration is supporting,” said Marcie Keever, FOE’s oceans and vessels program director and legal director.

Republicans, meanwhile, have accused Democrats of trying to use the stimulus package to push their own agenda. 

“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 in a Monday floor speech

Tags Climate change Coronavirus coronavirus stimulus FOE Friends of the Earth Gina McCarthy Mitch McConnell Natural Resources Defense Council NRDC Sierra Club Stimulus Package

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