Schumer creates litmus test for infrastructure package

Source: Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, December 7, 2018

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is angling to ensure that measures to address climate change are a central component of any potential bipartisan infrastructure package eyed by President Trump.

Schumer’s intentions — appearing in a letter sent to the White House yesterday and an op-ed appearing today in The Washington Post — represent some of the strongest policy positions the New York Democrat has taken on climate change since assuming his leadership position this Congress.

They also introduce a new flashpoint in an already uphill battle to cobble policies and funding together to form an infrastructure package.

The letter comes amid a green and climate group pressure campaign that has at times been critical of Schumer but is meant to ensure climate change-related policies remain at the forefront of the Democrats’ policy priorities in next Congress. Headlined by the “Green New Deal,” climate change policy has increasingly taken over the consciousness of House and Senate lawmakers (E&E Daily, Dec. 6).

“In the wake of the administration’s release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment report and some of the most devastating wildfires and hurricanes the U.S. has ever seen, it is crucial that we immediately enact legislation to combat climate change and create millions of jobs,” Schumer wrote in his letter to Trump.

“Therefore, any infrastructure package considered in 2019 must include policies and funding to transition to a clean energy economy and mitigate the risks that the United States is already facing due to climate change,” the letter continues.

Lawmakers could provide permanent tax incentives for the production of clean electricity and storage, energy efficient buildings and electric vehicles to achieve those goals, Schumer suggested.

They could also include more money for transmission capacity connecting remote renewable energy sites; increased investment in research and development of the next generation of clean technology; and more funding to make communities and infrastructure more resilient in the face of the worst effects of climate change, he said. Another possibility is improved efforts to prevent methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.

Many of those tenets were at the center of Schumer’s infrastructure proposal put forward in 2017.

Republicans largely ignored that proposal, focusing instead on public-private partnership opportunities. And, Trump, who is unlikely to be moved by the climate change threat, has over the past month repeatedly cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus of the root causes of man-driven climate change.

Trump’s comments have only been magnified by his own administration’s report outlining the physical and economic devastation the worst of climate change could reap on the United States (Climatewire, Nov. 23). Administration officials have looked to downplay that report as a “worst case” scenario, not based in fact.

“Climate change is an existential threat,” Schumer wrote, adding that a single infrastructure bill “will not solve our climate problem in its entirety, but it is an important first step.”

Schumer is not the only Senate Democrat to bring climate change to the forefront in a surprising statement. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a leading Capitol Hill voice in promoting the use of coal, expressed similar urgency in a statement explaining his change of heart on Trump’s controversial pick, Bernard McNamee, to fill out the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (E&E Daily, Dec. 6).

“We can’t make progress if our public officials deny that a problem even exists,” Manchin said about McNamee’s alleged dismissal of climate change.

Schumer has taken heat from environmental groups and climate activists for not yet addressing Manchin’s potential new leadership position as ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee (E&E News PM, Dec. 3).

Presidential hopefuls like billionaire environmentalist donor Tom Steyer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) have launched petitions to stop Manchin’s possible ascension while the Sunrise Movement held a protest outside Schumer’s New York City office Monday to express their opposition.