Print Friendly, PDF & Email

New Green Deal Introduced and Speaker Names Members to Select Committee on Climate Crisis

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took the first concrete legislative steps toward addressing climate needs on Thursday when she named Democrat Members to sit on the Select Committee on Climate Change.  The committee will serve as a legislative think tank to consider the factors conspiring to climate challenges and to make recommendations to the Speaker by March 2020.  The committee will not legislate, leaving that responsibility to the standing House committees with jurisdiction over climate change.  The members of the Select Committee represent a cross-section of the Democratic House membership.  Republican membership has yet to be named.

On the same day, the much-anticipated New Green Deal initiative was introduced in the House by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) in the Senate.  Markey has been a climate policy leader for decades, having sponsored the first climate bill in the House that was approved and sent to the Senate, when he served as a Representative.  The soup to nuts initiative is a smorgasbord of a resolution.  Markey noted that it is meant to serve as a first step toward developing a comprehensive approach to deal with a new green economy.  It presents a roadmap that touches on every facet of life in the U.S.  Under the resolution, the UN Panel on Climate Change’s findings on the causes of climate change and the resulting impacts from sea level rise to severe storms to economic impacts on communities and public health are recognized as the call for action.  The resolution further declares that with stagnation in wage growth, declining life expectancy, and inadequate resources to combat climate impacts, along with threats to national security, a New Green Deal can serve to mobilize the country and create sustainable economic growth, while addressing economic and social “injustices”.

Based upon the findings, the resolution determines that it is the federal government’s responsibility to develop a Green New Deal that will: deliver net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, create millions of high wage jobs, invest in sustainable infrastructure, secure clean air, water, climate resilience, and healthy food, and address historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, and the poor, elderly, and homeless populations.

The resolution sets forth an ambitious agenda of activities certain to generate congressional debates.  Among the resolution’s directives that are to be translated into federal policy: upgrading the grid to become energy efficient to provide affordable electricity, upgrading all buildings to be energy and water efficient, safe, and durable; spurring clean manufacturing; supporting family farming and investing in sustainable farm practices; providing universal access to healthy food; providing access to clean public and private transportation; removing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere; restoring endangered and fragile ecosystems to address resiliency; and cleaning up hazardous waste sites to provide sustainable economic development at such sites.  Upon its debut, Members of Congress’ views on the resolution ran the spectrum ranging from strong support to denunciations of the effort to insert socialistic planning into the economy and federal oversight of state and local and private activities.  Approval of the resolution by the House and Senate is considered remote, but it is expected to serve as a platform to advance recommendations that the Select Committee on Climate Crisis may develop in the next eighteen months.

Senate Committee Advances Wheeler Nomination

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works voted on party lines to approve the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to become U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator.  A date for a full Senate vote on Wheeler’s nomination has not been announced

Wheeler’s nomination advanced despite Senators’ concerns that arose last week when it was reported that USEPA will not set a drinking water standard for PFAS.  Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), whose State is experiencing high levels of PFAS water contamination, told reporters after the committee vote that in private meetings with Wheeler and USEPA staff, she was assured that they will “look at all available statutory authorities EPA has been granted by Congress to address this potential crisis.”

The committee also advanced the nomination of Nicole Nason to be the head of the Federal Highway Administration.  Nason’s nomination also goes to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.

House Committee Kicks Off Infrastructure Discussions

The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure kicked off the infrastructure policy-making effort with a day-long hearing that explored the multi-faceted needs and disrepair of the nation’s public works.   Key state and locally-elected officials and stakeholders dependent upon vibrant national infrastructure testified on the priority to address the crumbling nature of America’s infrastructure, ranging from wastewater systems, to roads, to airports, to railroads and ports.

The bipartisan support was vividly illustrated by Freedom Caucus Leader and committee member Jim Jordan (R-OH).  Jordan revealed a desire to find ways that will address the long-term financing needs, and avoid short-term bandaid approaches, by developing financing solutions that will provide sustainable investments.  Jordon’s acknowledgement and willingness, who consistently has sought to reduce federal spending, to consider new spending could remove one of the most challenging obstacles to passing comprehensive infrastructure policy in the House.

In the course of the hearing, committee members expressed interest in public-private partnerships and privatization.  Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti provided a succinct recommendation to the committee on the matter.  He suggested that public-private partnerships could serve a purpose in financing roads, for example, where tolls could be relied upon to finance a project.  However, projects like water and wastewater, he indicated, require effective and robust public financing to ensure that public health services, like water treatment, are guaranteed.

The hearing emphasized transportation-related infrastructure needs, but a review of wastewater infrastructure needs was highlighted when witnesses noted the growing demands for the funding of projects that address stormwater, green infrastructure, disadvantaged communities, and the ever-increasing financing needs of antiquated treatment facilities across the nation. Committee members were urged to provide robust funding of the Clean Water SRF, increase assistance for green infrastructure, and to provide for more efficient permitting processes to reduce project costs.

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Holds First Climate Hearing

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held its first hearing of the new Congress.  The hearing, entitled “Time For Action: Addressing the Environmental and Economic Effects of Climate Change,” examined the effects and costs of climate change to the nation’s economy, environment, and communities, and how to best address these effects and costs.

Overall, there was bipartisan agreement about the need to have policy conversations about how to address and reduce the effects and costs of climate change.  A common theme among committee members and witnesses was the need for an investment approach that supports innovative and resilient infrastructure projects and technologies.  Full Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) emphasized the need to modernize and update the nation’s infrastructure to ensure that vital services, such as water and sewer systems, are more resilient.

When responding to Pallone’s question of what examples there are within electric and pipeline infrastructure where improvements and investments are necessary, Michael Williams, Deputy Director for the BlueGreen Alliance, provided the example of water infrastructure.  He explained water infrastructure is an essential sector that has the potential to deliver improved energy savings and pollution reductions if there was direct investment in the sector.  Williams explained that pumping water takes enormous amounts of energy and with leaky old pipeline systems, the nation ends up wasting energy resources and contributing to pollution.  Through investing and modernizing water infrastructure systems, it can help the nation save energy, reduce pollution, and create jobs.

Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 876, Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019. – Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).  Passed House by voice vote, received in the Senate.

New Legislation

H.R. 667 – Regulatory Certainty for Navigable Waters Act – Representative Herrera Beutler (R-WA)

S. 403, A bill to encourage the research and use of innovative materials and associated techniques in the construction and preservation of the domestic transportation and water infrastructure system, and for other purposes. – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

S. XXXX, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area Act. – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

S. 376, A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify the definition of navigable waters, and for other purposes. – Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

H.R. 977, To require the Corps of Engineers to notify affected communities before releasing water contaminated with cyanobacteria from flood risk management projects, and for other purposes. – Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL)

H.R. 892, To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to limit attorney fees and penalties in citizen suits, and for other purposes. – Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)

H.R. 667, Regulatory Certainty for Navigable Waters Act. – Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)

H.R. 358, California New River Restoration Act of 2019. – Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA)

Reports and Regulation

USEPA Announces New Water Quality Trading Policy – Press release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new policy memorandum that aims to help states, tribes, and stakeholders to use market-, incentive-, and community-based programs to reduce nutrients and improve water quality.

(Report) – USEPA National Compliance Initiatives for Fiscal Years 2020-2023 – outlines USEPA’s national compliance and enforcement plans and seeks public comment (30 days).

The document includes a request for comments on a new initiative, “Keeping Industrial Pollutants Out of the Nation’s Waters” NCI to “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Significant Non-Compliance Reduction”:

(Report) Year in Review: 2018 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

  • Issued major proposals, including the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, and the new waters of the U.S. definition;
  • Initiated multiple actions to reduce lead exposure, including releasing the Federal Lead Action Plan;
  • Issued 13 final deregulatory actions.
  • Closed seven Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans totaling nearly $2 billion to help finance over $4 billion for water infrastructure projects and create up to 6,000 jobs; and,
  • Awarded $4,451,520,905 in grants.

Building Progressive Infrastructure (Center for American Progress) – Report on why Congress needs to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package that would create jobs, raise wages, address the climate crisis, and improve social opportunity and equity.

Congress Next Week

February 12, 2019

House Committee on Energy and Commerce – Hearing on Wasted Energy: DOE’s Inaction on Efficiency Standards and Its Impact on Consumers and The Climate

February 13, 2019

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing on The Invasive Species Threat: Protecting Wildlife, Public Health, and Infrastructure

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation – Hearing on America’s Infrastructure Needs: Keeping Pace with a Growing Economy