Senate Democrats and environmentalists want to tack climate change mandates onto proposed federal aid to major airlines and cruise lines reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to the House and Senate leadership, eight Senate Democrats said last week that any financial assistance to the travel industry “should be paired with requirements that companies act in a more responsible fashion” by reducing their carbon footprint.

“If we given the airline and cruise industries assistance without requiring them to be better environmental stewards, we would miss a major opportunity to combat climate change and ocean dumping,” said the letter.

At the same time, more than 200 environmental and wildlife groups urged Congress to place a cap on greenhouse gases from U.S. air fleets, which would require the industry to reduce emissions by 20% per decade from 2020 levels.

“Climate change damages will wreak havoc on a scale even greater than the coronavirus,” said the Friday letter headed by the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is time to stop repeating the mistakes of the past and ensure that any bailout of the aviation industry puts it on a path to address its threat to our climate, workers and communities.”

The U.S. airline industry is pushing for $50 billion in financial assistance — about half in zero-interest loan guarantees, half in cash grants — as air travel nosedives in reaction to COVID-19, while the Senate GOP package as introduced includes loans but not grants.

The risk for Democrats lies with the optics of holding up critically needed aid over climate concerns. United Airlines and its unions warned Friday that layoffs would be necessary to account for next month’s anticipated 60% drop in planned flights without federal help.

Climate Depot’s Marc Morano blasted the effort to insert climate change into the crisis response, saying that the “last thing U.S. businesses or the economy need are more punishing climate-based mandates to satisfy the Democrat Party base.”

“Democrats know that they should never let a crisis go to waste,” said Mr. Morano, author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change.” “They are pouncing on any opportunity to inject climate into the COVID-19 issue. Trying to make sure that any federal stimulus bills include going in the ‘right direction toward decarbonization’ is not the way to proceed.”

Climate change activists have increasingly targeted greenhouse gas emissions from airplane travel, engaging in “flight shaming” to discourage frequent flyers, a phenomenon has wound up embarrassing such Green New Deal advocates as Sens. Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over their private jet travel.

In their letter, the Democrats said that airline travel accounts for 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions, a figure expected to triple by 2050, while cruise ships “burn heavy fuel oil, one of the dirtiest fuels.”

“Business leaders are themselves increasingly recognizing that their companies must make positive contributions to society or risk losing their social license,” said the letter. “This is particularly true when companies ask American taxpayers for financial assistance.”

The industry group Airlines for America said on its website that U.S. planes improved their efficiency between 1978 and 2018 by 130%, resulting in nearly 5 billion metric tons of “carbon dioxide savings,” while carriers continue to invest in alternative fuels.

The Democrats who signed the letter were Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Jeffrey Merkley of Oregon, Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tina Smith of Minnesota and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

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