House Dems set sights on infrastructure, ‘piecemeal’ climate action

Source: George Cahlink, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 15, 2019

LEESBURG, Va. — Speaker Nancy Pelosi is making a potentially $2 trillion infrastructure package a top priority for the House, despite not having a clear plan for paying for it.

The California Democrat made the case for moving a wide-ranging package as her caucus gathered here at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa for a three-day retreat.

She and other Democratic leaders sought to hammer home a message that the proposal could create millions of jobs, pare down a $5 trillion infrastructure backlog and win support across party lines.

“It has to be at least $1 trillion, I’d like it be closer to $2 trillion. It’s how you leverage it; there are all kinds of ways to spend and invest in it,” she said of the scope of the package.

While saying she believed President Trump was interested in a bipartisan deal, Pelosi was dismissive of his opening offer of a $1 trillion plan. The administration’s approach would rely heavily on private as well as local and state investments to leverage $200 billion in federal spending.

“I have pooh-poohed his $200 billion mini-nothing of an infrastructure bill that said to the communities, ‘You do 80%; we do 20%.’ That’s a formula that does nothing,” she said. “I think he probably knows that was not a successful path.”

Pelosi sketched out a broad plan that would include traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges and efforts aimed at public housing and schools. She also stressed the need to find ways to replace aging water systems.

“Our water systems, some of them are 100 years old, built of brick and wood — how would you like a glass of water [from them]?” she said.

Pelosi also said policies aimed at combating climate change would be closely connected to the infrastructure plan. For example, she said, roads would need to be rebuilt and reengineered to allow for more driverless electric vehicles.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will take the lead on the bill, but Pelosi noted panels with oversight of energy and environmental policies would have significant input, including the Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees, as well as the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

While leaders of the party’s liberal and centrists wings backed a go-big approach, Democrats failed to offer any unified vision for how they would fund it.

Covering its hefty price tag has long been the main sticking point in negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans (E&E Daily, April 9).

Asked about a possible carbon tax to pay for it, Pelosi demurred, saying “there are different ways” to raise revenue. Other ideas mentioned by lawmakers included new taxes on high-speed financial transactions or rolling back a chunk of the 2017 tax cut.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday he would like to move an infrastructure package, too, but blamed conservatives for blocking it. He refused to say whether he would support a gas tax to pay for it, an option that has funded similar project bills in the past.

“If [Republicans] aren’t going to put real money and have real labor and environmental protections, we’re not going to get anywhere,” said Schumer, noting that he, Pelosi and Trump are expected to meet on the issue in the coming weeks.

Climate

House Democrats are seeking modest steps on combating climate change rather than advancing a single, comprehensive plan as they did with cap-and-trade legislation in 2009.

Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, led closed-door sessions for lawmakers yesterday afternoon titled, “Climate Change in the 116th Congress.”

Others on the private panel were St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Rick Kriseman and representatives from the AFL-CIO and Skeo Solutions, an environmental consulting firm.

Kriseman, a Democrat whose city neighbors Castor’s district, told E&E News he would focus his comments on ways the federal government can help cities and local governments with their climate efforts.

He cited several modest steps such as making more grants directly to communities for resilience projects, maintaining electric tax vehicle credits and working with them on energy efficiency standards.

“As mayors, we have to be pragmatic and get things done. If that means we have to take a step at a time, let’s do it, but we have to start taking steps,” said Kriseman, who made his city the first in Florida to set a goal of using 100% renewable energy.

Kriseman said he has no problem with the progressives’ ambitious Green New Deal but said it’s more “aspirational” and that some of its technology proposals are not fully developed.

He said his city, where streets regularly flood at high tide and have seen record rains in recent years, needs policy plans that can be pursued immediately.

Progressives acknowledged the Green New Deal might not move, but they voiced support for small pieces of legislation as well as steps in the infrastructure package to address climate change.

“The good news is there is more action in the last couple months than there has been in the last eight years [in the House], so no matter what, that is something to build from,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who noted climate action polls “very well” with voters.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), a member of party leadership, said “you are not going to see Democrats shy away from” climate actions.

He predicted that a series of bills could move during the next year tied to reducing pollution, expanding renewable energy sources and raising energy efficiency standards.

Energy and Commerce member Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) also said the party would likely take a more “piecemeal” approach in advancing multiple bills rather than moving a single plan.

She said those measures would reflect goals recently outlined by Tonko, including protecting low-income households and ensuring climate policies don’t disadvantage U.S. industries.

Several Democrats said the first action from the House could come after the spring recess in passing legislation (H.R. 9) that would keep Trump from pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

Reporter Jeremy Dillon contributed.