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Climate and the $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday afternoon on a $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the provisions are a mixed bag for climate change.

The measure does not include $3 billion for the government to buy oil and fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a provision sought by Republicans and President Trump. But it also does not have an extension of federal tax credits for wind and solar energy that Democrats had tried to attach.

The package also has been stripped of language that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tried to include to require airlines receiving more than $50 billion in aid to cut greenhouse gas emissions, multiple lawmakers confirmed.

The bill is the result of five days of intense negotiations during which Mr. Trump lashed out at efforts to insert climate change provisions. He vowed to veto any measure with such provisions included.

Environment and renewable energy activists applauded what they described as essentially a draw between efforts of both the fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors to get emergency assistance.

“Democratic leadership fought hard and won, ensuring this is a package that invests in workers, families, and public health instead of polluters like the oil industry,” Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said in an email.

Democrats had sought to extend wind and solar power tax credits, which are set to expire in 2024, through 2027. The clean energy sector, which employs more than 600,000 people, has been hard-hit by the slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, as have other parts of the energy sector.

On airline emissions, a proposal that would have required airlines receiving federal aid to cut their emissions in half over the next 30 years, and also begin offsetting emissions by 2025, was ultimately thrown out.

Gregory Wetstone, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said the industry supported the final package.

“When lawmakers turn their attention to measures aimed at bolstering specific sectors of the economy adversely impacted by coronavirus, we want to make sure they understand how supply chain disruptions and other pandemic-related delays are threatening the jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers in the renewable sector,” Mr. Wetstone said.


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Credit…Tyler Varsell

Central America is just one of those dry areas. In fact, the region is facing a drought this year. And while dry spells have always been a fact of life here, they’ve become more frequent and more intense in the era of climate change.

Countries in the region quickly shut borders and ordered lockdowns in response to the pandemic, but the drought means water is in short supply in much of the area.

“Sometimes we run out of water and we have to buy some,” said Dr. Claudia Morales, a doctor at El Carmen hospital in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. “Other times we can’t buy any.”

That’s especially a problem at hospitals trying to deal with the pandemic. Water shortage increases the risk of community transmission, said Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of communicable diseases and health analysis at the Pan American Health Organization. The virus can survive on some surfaces for days, but hand washing kills the virus and prevents it from spreading. A hospital without water, Dr. Espinal said, quickly turns into a breeding ground that could infect the entire medical staff.

Dr. Morales has worked at El Carmen hospital for more than 15 years and said the hospital has been forced to ration water for the last four years. But now that they need water the most, it’s more scarce than ever.

“It’s worse now,” Dr. Morales said. “We used to get water twice a week, now it’s once a week.”

Her hospital in Tegucigalpa lies in the middle of the Central American Dry Corridor, a 1,000-mile stretch of land that’s home to nine out of every 10 people in Central America.

Hugo Hidalgo, director of the Geophysical Investigation Center at the University of Costa Rica, has been studying the dry corridor for six years and said average temperatures in the region are rising by roughly 0.3 degrees Celsius (0.5 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade.

Luckily, Dr. Espinal said countries in the region still had time to avoid outbreaks like the ones that have overwhelmed health care systems in places like Italy.

As in Italy, the response in Central America will hold lessons.

“It’s not a failure that they have cases,” Dr. Espinal said. “They have an opportunity to prepare and contain the virus.

“After this is over, we’ll know if our countries did it right.”