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Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The COVID-19 relief and spending deal is Capitol Hill's "most significant action on climate and energy in over a decade," according to analysis from the Rhodium Group, an emissions research firm.

Why it matters: The package now heading for President Trump's signature would phase down a potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in air conditioning and refrigeration.

Catch up fast: Other provisions in the wide-ranging energy deal include extended eligibility for tax credits for renewable power and carbon sequestration projects. It also:

  • Authorizes over $35 billion over a decade for a suite of Energy Department R&D and technology demonstration efforts.
  • Alters and expands the focus of those programs to better address areas that include advanced energy storage, advancements in renewables tech, direct air capture of CO2 and more.

The big picture: The 85% U.S. cut in production and consumption of HFCs over 15 years would cumulatively reduce emissions by roughly 900 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent, per Rhodium.

  • For a sense of scale, that's more than the annual emissions of Germany, according to the analysis, which describes the provision as the "biggest prize" in the deal.
  • The two-year extension (through 2025) to start building projects eligible for an existing program that provides 12 years of CO2 sequestration credits is a big deal too, Rhodium says.
  • "Extending the deadline by two years provides a lot more time for projects in a wide variety of applications to get off the ground," Rhodium notes.
  • That program, depending on capture costs, might cumulatively curb emissions by another 585 million metric tons over 15 years — which is more than Australia's annual emissions, Rhodium concludes.

The intrigue: Rhodium estimates the cumulative 15-year effect of the HFC and CO2 sequestration credits would more than counteract the impact of two big Trump-era decisions: weakening vehicle emissions standards and rolling back methane rules for the oil-and-gas sector.

What they're saying: The research firm ClearView Energy Partners said the support for carbon capture and storage in both the tax and Energy Department innovation sections "appears to underscore its role as a source of bipartisan climate consensus."

What we're watching: A lot more would have to happen around vehicles, zero-carbon power, industrial decarbonization and more to put the U.S. on a path to the steep emissions cuts envisioned under President-elect Joe Biden's plan.

  • Biden's platform includes both reversing Trump administration policies and going further than Obama-era efforts. "A lot more needs to be done and there is little time to do it," Rhodium notes.
  • Sam Ricketts, co-founder of the environmental group Evergreen Action, said the COVID-19 relief and climate provisions fall short of what the "economic and climate crises demand."
  • "[T]his legislation is a down payment on the clean energy economic recovery that President-elect Biden will realize in full, starting next year," Ricketts said in a statement.

Yes, but: Sweeping, aggressive climate and energy bills will face immense hurdles in the closely divided Senate. Biden's agenda is expected to rest heavily on executive actions that are certain to face legal challenges.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 26, 2021 - Energy & Environment

New report pushes UN to rethink electricity goals in developing nations

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It's time for the world's biggest multilateral development agencies to radically reframe their goals around expanding electricity access, a new proposal argues.

Why it matters: The nonprofit Energy for Growth Hub says the UN's current sustainable development goals (SDGs) around power access are too modest and focus too narrowly on residential use.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Schumer suggests Biden could use emergency powers for climate policy

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants President Biden to explore use of emergency executive powers to fight climate change, he told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last night.

Driving the news: Schumer said it "might be a good idea for President Biden to call a climate emergency," and noted, "Then he can do many, many things under the emergency powers of the president ... that he could do without legislation."

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
21 hours ago - Economy & Business

Larry Fink to CEOs: Climate risk is investment risk

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The biggest investor in the world has an unambiguous message for the CEOs of the companies he invests in: climate risk is investment risk.

Why it matters: Pressure from BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, who controls $9 trillion, will encourage companies to report not only what their greenhouse gas emissions are today, but also what they're doing to ensure that their future emissions are in line with Paris Agreement targets that end at zero in 2050.