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Energy Special Interests Demand Handouts in Massive Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

Energy special interests began swarming the Capitol this week, as Congress passed a second emergency spending bill addressing the coronavirus pandemic and began to put together a $1 trillion or larger stimulus bill to try to counteract the resulting economic downturn. They all want the same thing—handouts for their particular industry.

The wind, solar, electric vehicle, and energy storage industries made it first to the feeding trough because they were already prepared. Morning Consult Energy reported on 16th March that the Democratic co-chairs of the House Clean Energy and Environment Sustainability Caucus had released a statement that called for adding a wide array of renewable energy tax credits to any stimulus bill in order to address “both the economic slowdown we are facing as a result of COVID-19 and the ongoing climate crisis.”

Their list of handouts comes from a letter sent to Congress on February 27 by the American Wind Energy Association, Solar Energy Industries Association, Business Network for Offshore Wind, Electric Drive Transportation Association, Energy Storage Association, American Council for Clean Energy, and a wide assortment of environmental pressure groups.

A different approach was taken by eight Democratic Senators led by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). In an March 18 letter, the Senators advocated that any bailout for the airline industry should be tied to mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Center for Biological Diversity and 237 other assorted groups sent a letter on March 20 demanding that airlines agree to greenhouse gas limits for aircraft and an absolute cap on greenhouse gas emissions by the U. S. airline industry.

The draft Senate stimulus bill put together this week by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) includes $58 billion in loans and loan guarantees for the airline industry with no greenhouse gas emissions strings attached. Other industries would get a total of $150 billion in loans and small businesses would be eligible for $300 billion.

Also on March 18, the National Mining Association sent a letter asking for help for the coal mining industry. According to Reuters, the letter asked President Trump and Congress to help ensure that “‘coal companies have access to the necessary cash flow they need to continue operations.’ It asked for Trump to take executive action to keep coal-fired power plants running, and asked Congress to ‘suspend or reduce’ royalties on mining and cut taxes and fees the industry pays for things like health assistance to victims of black lung disease and cleanups of former mines.”

The collapse in oil prices has already led the Trump administration to announce that the federal government will purchase 30 million barrels of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin floated the idea of $20 billion in additional assistance for the domestic oil industry. The American Petroleum Institute has so far only requested some fairly minor regulatory relief.

While lobbyists are, as Politico put it, in a mad dash to make sure their industry is included in the stimulus package, climate activists are still trying to figure out what to do to get attention now that a re al crisis has gripped the world. The New York Times reports: “The coronavirus outbreak has prompted climate activists to abandon public demonstrations, one of their most powerful tools for raising public awareness, and shift to online protests.”