White House uses Arbor Day to renew push for 1 trillion trees initiative

White House uses Arbor Day to renew push for 1 trillion trees initiative
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The White House is using Arbor Day, which encourages people across the country to plant trees, to renew its push for joining the Trillion Trees initiative.

The Trump administration has pushed to join the global initiative since January, but a House bill to finalize the effort has stalled amid the coronavirus outbreak and a lack of support from Democrats.

The tree initiative “will lead to cleaner air and water, create wildlife habitat, and reaffirm our nation’s commitment to conserving the majesty of God’s creation and the natural beauty of our world,” President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE wrote in an Arbor Day message Friday while touting planting a maple tree on the South Lawn of the White House for Earth Day earlier this week.

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Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanInterior stresses 'showing up for work' after Grijalva tests positive for coronavirus Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign Natural Resources Democrats again rebuff Republican complaints about virtual meetings MORE (R-Ark.), the Yale-educated forester who sponsored the Trillion Trees Act that would commit the U.S. to the global initiative, said he’s hopeful to get the bill back on track after Congress deals with the immediate response to the pandemic.

Westerman said the coronavirus outbreak has him working on expanding certain portions of the bill, which in broad strokes requires the U.S. to plant some 3.3 billion trees each year over the next 30 years — an increase of about 800 million trees per year.

The underlying premise is that trees absorb carbon, and a boost in planting, harvesting and then planting more trees will allow the U.S. to reduce the harmful gas.

But Westerman said a portion of the bill that gives tax credits for sustainable building — a measure that promotes building energy-efficient homes alongside using wood products — could be a beneficial measure as the U.S. seeks to grow the economy once the virus subsides.

“I thought the sustainable building tax credit was a good idea before the pandemic, now I think it’s a great idea,” he told The Hill.  “Now, I think we should even look at enhancing it. If we want to do things from the federal government standpoint to help the economy get rolling then we can use these incentives to help homebuilding and commercial construction.”

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That expansion could include incentives to use American-made products. 

Westerman also sees the potential for the U.S. to take a greater role in promoting forestry in developing nations, a role he said could lead to more habitat for threatened wildlife as well as forestry jobs.

“Forestry and deforestation affects wildlife habitat. I think that has a tie into economies in a lot of these areas where forests are and the fact that some people trade illegal wildlife into these wet markets. I think we need to use leverage and pressure to try to shut down those wet markets around the world,” he said. “The bill has a tie to helping prevent future pandemics by giving people better economies and livelihoods versus selling reptiles and certain mammals in the wet markets.” 

Trump announced his plan to join the Trillion Trees program earlier this year, and it’s become part of the Republican climate proposal in the House.

But Democrats have opposed Westerman’s bill, saying tree planting alone cannot be the key to the climate solution.

“Any bill, no matter how well-intended, that does not respond to this crisis needs to be recognized as part of the problem,” Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say | House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction | Interior sends 100K pages of documents to House House-passed spending bill would block Pebble Mine construction OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA rule extends life of toxic coal ash ponds | Flint class action suit against Mich. officials can proceed, court rules | Senate Democrats introduce environmental justice bill MORE (D-Calif.) said at the bill’s hearing in February. “We should plant trees, we should perfect cross-laminated timber ... but we should not call these ‘climate solutions’ if we are using these strategies to continue deforestation and continue developing and burning fossil fuel at a completely unacceptable and unsustainable pace.”

Westerman said he is still seeking a sponsor for a companion bill in the Senate, and his staffers have been in communication with Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunThis week: Negotiators hunt for coronavirus deal as August break looms Frustration builds as negotiators struggle to reach COVID-19 deal Unemployment benefits to expire as coronavirus talks deadlock MORE (R-Ind.).