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USA Today: ‘The most significant climate legislation ever’: How stimulus bill tackles warming planet

WASHINGTON – The mammoth spending bill Congress approved Monday to curb the spiraling pandemic and prevent a government shutdown carries another description: a substantial step to confront climate change.

Environmental advocates are touting the $2.3 trillion bill as a potential game-changer thanks to tax breaks for renewable energy sources, initiatives to promote carbon capture storage and a significant phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are a key culprit to the planet’s warming.

In addition, the measure not only eliminates the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to federal climate science programs but adds millions to those programs for 2021.

“Passage of this bill represents real forward progress on climate change and clean energy.” said Lindsey Griffith, federal policy director at the Clean Air Task Force, who calls the package “the most significant U.S. federal climate legislation ever.”

While the sweeping bill has grabbed headlines for the billions it provides in direct payments to millions of Americans and its extension of a forgivable loan program for small businesses crippled by the pandemic, policy provisions that attempt to halt carbon emissions that contribute to climate change could prove far more lasting.

Among the most heralded is a bipartisan move to significantly curb the use of HFCs found in refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation and fire extinguishing systems. The provision requires the Environmental Protection Agency to implement an 85% phasedown of the production and consumption so they reach about 15% of their 2011-2013 average annual levels by 2036.