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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 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

General Motors puts Trump in its rearview mirror

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

General Motors (GM) is racing to prepare itself for a president and a world that takes climate change more seriously — and putting the Trump era behind them in the process.

Driving the news: GM yesterday announced an ambitious plan to end global sales of internal combustion vehicles by 2035. It's part of their wider new pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Chauvin defense closing: "Does not have to prove his innocence"

Chauvin's defense attorney Eric Nelson opened his closing argument on Monday by reminding the jury that Derek Chauvin "does not have to prove his innocence."

Why it matters: The jury's verdict in Chauvin's murder trial is seen by advocates as one of the most crucial civil rights cases in decades.

Merrick Garland: Domestic terror is "still with us"

Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In his first major speech, Attorney General Merrick Garland warned the nation Monday to remain vigilant against the rising threat of domestic extremism.

Why it matters: Domestic terrorism poses an "elevated threat" to the nation this year, according to U.S. intelligence. Garland has already pledged to crack down on violence linked to white supremacists and right-wing militia groups.