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 DeFazioCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote House Democrats to include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package Anxious Democrats amp up pressure for vote on COVID-19 aid 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 McConnellIn rare move, Schumer forces vote to consider health care bill amid Supreme Court tensions COVID-19 talks hit crucial stretch Supreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting 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 McCarthyChamber of Commerce's top political adviser ousted Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power MORE (R-Calif.) has also questioned the need for another phase of coronavirus relief. 

However, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP seeks to redirect criticism over Trump tax returns House rebuffs GOP lawmaker's effort to remove references to Democrats in Capitol Grassley says disclosing Trump's tax records without authorization could violate law 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.