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In massive energy investments, some see just a start

In massive energy investments, some see just a start
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Monday’s passage of a spending bill that includes a number of energy and climate provisions is a big deal to the energy industry and environmental activists, though some say this is just a starting point for enacting President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE’s climate vision. 

Included in the legislation are provisions to reduce the use of a climate-warming pollutant, spur renewable and nuclear energy development, and encourage fossil fuel producers to use technology that captures carbon emissions.

Biden called the relief bill a “down payment” on multiple crises facing the U.S.

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"Congress did their job this week, and I can and I must ask them to do it again next year," he said.

The $900 billion legislation invests in almost every type of energy, including the renewables that Biden has promised to expand under his plan. But it also invests significantly in nuclear energy, an emission-free source often promoted in conservative circles but sometimes opposed by environmentalists due to its expense and toxic waste.

Though in some ways the legislation is the most significant energy bill Congress has passed in some time, there are those who stress that while Biden may have the funding, he’ll still have to push to make his policies a priority.

“Not all energy funded in [the] omnibus we consider clean,” Kirin Kennedy, deputy legislative director with the Sierra Club, told The Hill, adding that the group hopes to see a strong commitment from the new administration on fossil fuels.

"When it comes to other industries, we’re going to continue to work with stakeholders to make sure mitigation things are put in place and there’s a just transition on jobs and making sure communities aren't being contaminated, whether that's with nuclear waste storage or other toxic waste," Kennedy added.

But for industry groups, the bill ends a years-long battle to gain research and development funds, investments, and tax credits for technology they fear won’t be viable in the future without assistance in the present.  

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And Republicans have vowed to follow through with the Biden administration to ensure that multiple types of energy get dedicated resources.

"A big factor in this agreement is the recognition that we have to develop a diverse portfolio of clean energy technologies, so it’s important that this legislation is implemented consistently with Congressional intent," House Science, Space and Technology Committee ranking member Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasA path forward for the future of American science and technology House Science panel requests briefing with Energy Dept over Colonial hack On The Trail: Texas underscores Democrats' struggle with voter turnout MORE (R-Okla.) said in a statement to The Hill. "We want this work to begin immediately."

“We’ll be conducting oversight of the incoming administration to make sure the focus stays on transformational R&D to keep the U.S. the leader in clean energy technology,” he added, referring to research and development. 

Meanwhile, the nuclear industry was particularly enthusiastic about provisions in the bill, including those that create a new program to support the availability of a type of uranium that can be used in advanced reactors, provide $250 million for a cost-shared partnership program for advanced reactors first established in the previous appropriations bill and establish a new government plan for a uranium reserve. 

Baker Elmore, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior director for federal programs, called one of the provisions a “huge shot in the arm to the industry.” 

“It was a great win for nuclear power,” Elmore said. 

Solar industry advocates also argued that the bill is significant for their industry, particularly provisions to extend an industrial solar energy tax credit by two years and a plan to develop renewables on public lands. 

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) spokesperson Dan Whitten told reporters on Tuesday that preliminary numbers show the tax credit extension could provide about $20 billion in benefits to the industry. 

SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said the bill made her optimistic about the future of solar legislation. 

“This bill passed a divided congress, and so we think it demonstrates that there is bipartisan support for solar,” she said. 

A major win for environmentalists came in the form of a plan to phase down the use of potent greenhouse gasses called hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) over a 15-year period. A study published in 2013 estimated that reducing the use of HFCs could prevent an additional 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century. 

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThis week: Democrats face fractures in spending fight Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Democrats wary of emerging bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (D-Del.), who has been a leading voice in the push for the HFC phasedown, said in a statement that the bill’s climate components "represent the future of climate solutions, finding ways that the federal government can help to save our planet from the climate crisis while creating hundreds of thousands of new manufacturing jobs."

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Biden will have to target many other types of emissions to put the U.S. on track to meet net-zero emissions by 2050 as he has promised. And environmental groups have stressed that they expect to see climate priorities reflected throughout government. Biden has since appointed former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyOvernight Energy: Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline | Government watchdog finds failings, but no Trump influence, in clearing of Lafayette Square Democrats blast Biden climate adviser over infrastructure remarks Democrat predicts 'big fight' over carbon pricing in the Senate MORE as his domestic climate czar — a role designed to ensure climate change policy is implemented throughout government.

“We expect to see climate reflected in the president's budget next year,” Kennedy said, adding that climate must be weighed as the government crafts military, health, agriculture and environmental policies.

“We view this as a down payment — a flag, for lack of a better word, to the direction that we hope the country continues to go in as legislators and others continue working on this issue,” she said. “This is not ‘Oh, we've gotten all this money. Now we're done.’ It’s more like, ‘It’s great that you see this as a priority.’”