Democrats push for green infrastructure provisions in next coronavirus package

Democrats push for green infrastructure provisions in next coronavirus package
© Greg Nash

Democrats are pushing for the next coronavirus package to include a litany of green infrastructure provisions in defiance of past GOP rebukes of mixing such measures with efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioInvesting in the transportation system America needs Overnight Energy: 'Gutted' Interior agency moves out West | House Dems roll out 0B green infrastructure bill | Court says EPA must update its offshore oil spill response plan House Democrats roll out 0B green transportation infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the package will include a "substantial investment" in high-speed rail, while aiming to shift the national highway system toward electrification, for cars and trucks alike.

It also includes provisions to reduce the carbon footprint of concrete, by altering the mix, and that of asphalt, by recycling existing materials.

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"The materials that we use can be way greener," he said. "We can reduce that footprint by half, with new materials that have been developed, we can actually go to carbon-negative concrete. ... So this can be a very green bill."

DeFazio dismissed the objections of Republican leaders, who had hammered House Democrats' previously proposed $2.5 trillion relief package as a liberal wish list full of provisions unrelated to the coronavirus crisis.

"There are going to be objections to this," he said. "Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: US Park Police say 'tear gas' statements were 'mistake' | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE made fun of my provisions — that the airlines agreed to — to reduce their carbon pollution dramatically and quickly. It could be carbon-neutral by 2025. It's time to get serious about this. But in rebuilding our infrastructure, we have a unique opportunity. No one disagrees it needs to be rebuilt. Rebuild it in a way that looks to the future, the 21st century, and also deals with climate change and carbon pollution at the same time. It's a no-brainer from my perspective." 

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said there are also provisions under his panel's jurisdiction to help states become more energy efficient, grant incentives for residents to weatherize their homes and provide funding to create a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.

That, he said, would "modernize our transportation system, save fuel and create a more efficient transportation system."   

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Congressional Republicans have pounced on Democrats’ remarks on the next phase of relief thus far, warning that it will include a number of liberal priorities disguised as an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“Let’s see how things are going and respond accordingly,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday. “I’m not going to allow this to be an opportunity for the Democrats to achieve unrelated policy items that they would not otherwise be able to pass.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - DC preps for massive Saturday protest; Murkowski breaks with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Floyd eulogies begin; Trump-Esper conflict emerges The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen MORE (R-Calif.) has also questioned the need for another phase of coronavirus relief. 

However, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNRCC turns up heat on vulnerable Democrats over Omar's call to abolish police Shocking job numbers raise hopes for quicker recovery Engel primary challenger hits million in donations MORE (D-Calif.) pitched the legislation as an opportunity to address the economic downturn and gird the country for the next emergency, all while helping the environment. 

"We can create millions of good-paying jobs building the infrastructure and by strengthening commerce and reducing air pollution that harms the public health," she said.