POLITICS

House to pass $1.5T infrastructure bill. What's next?

The House is expected to pass a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill this week that prioritizes climate change and clean energy, but the measure faces a rocky road ahead, given Republican opposition and no clear method of paying for it.

The "Moving Forward Act," H.R. 2, is one of three pieces of major legislation on the chamber's agenda this week, along with measures to expand the Affordable Care Act and address the nation's housing needs amid the coronavirus pandemic.

H.R. 2 is expected to see floor debate after the Rules Committee meets today to consider more than 300 amendments, including proposals related to clean energy and clean water.

The "Moving Forward Act" is essentially a grab bag of Democratic ideas for modernizing the country's aging infrastructure while combating climate change and creating good-paying jobs.

It would invest $100 billion in mass transit, $75 billion in clean energy, $40 billion in wastewater and $25 billion in drinking water, according to a fact sheet provided by the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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The centerpiece of the package is the $494 billion green transportation bill passed by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee earlier this month (Greenwire, June 19).

That bill, dubbed the "Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act," would establish new federal programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation projects and improve their resilience to natural disasters.

The package also incorporates provisions from the Energy and Commerce Committee that would modernize the electric grid to accommodate more renewables and promote energy efficiency.

In addition, it includes the "Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now Act" from the Ways and Means Committee, which would extend and expand a host of clean energy tax breaks (E&E Daily, June 26).

A major sticking point, however, is a lack of consensus on how to pay for the $1.5 trillion legislation.

At a press conference last week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was asked whether Democrats planned to pass the bill without first identifying a pay-for. Hoyer was blunt in his response, saying, "We're going to pass it without one."

GOP resistance

Another major obstacle to the measure's path forward: Republican resistance.

When crafting the $494 billion green transportation bill, House T&I Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) refused to involve GOP members because they rejected the need to curb fossil fuel use.

"They could not work with us on developing the surface bill because we have interwoven in grant programs to states and requirements to reduce fossil fuel pollution. They don't agree with that," DeFazio previously told E&E News (E&E Daily, June 17).

Top Republicans on the T&I Committee responded by complaining that they were shut out of the process of crafting the measure, which has been bipartisan in recent years.

They further alleged that the bill contained "extreme" environmental provisions akin to the Green New Deal, the progressive proposal to wean the country off fossil fuels in a decade.

An aide for T&I Republicans told E&E News that ranking member Sam Graves (R-Mo.) likely believes the lack of bipartisanship will imperil the bill's Senate chances. "You can get it through the House, but then what?" asked the aide.

"Maybe there will be some sort of course correction and we can get things done, but I think the way the process has gone thus far makes it that much more unlikely," the aide added.

A coalition of progressive groups last week urged House Democrats to go even bigger and reject GOP talking points.

"We applaud Chairman DeFazio's vision and leadership, but believe our country needs an even larger bill to rebuild our energy infrastructure, revitalize our manufacturing sector, and address the systemic racial inequality that's been so starkly highlighted over the past few months," wrote the groups, including the Sunrise Movement, Greenpeace USA and the Climate Justice Alliance.

"$1.5 trillion simply won't prevent the enormity of the coming crisis," they added. "We urge House Democrats to stand strong, reject false solutions and right-wing smears about the Green New Deal, and take the bold action we know is needed to secure people's livelihoods and protect our towns from the urgent crisis of climate change."

Even if the Senate doesn't take up H.R. 2, the Democrats will have provisions to push in broad negotiations over an infrastructure compromise or future COVID-19 economic relief bill.

Rules Committee

The Rules Committee will meet this afternoon to consider if any of the 367 amendments filed on the bill warrant further floor consideration.

Leadership is hoping to wrap up debate on the package before members leave for the July Fourth break, so observers expect a structured rule with a pared-down list of amendments.

Leading the pending amendments are a series of environmental measures from both Democrats and Republicans.

An amendment from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) would add the bipartisan "Recovering America's Wildlife Act," H.R. 3742, which would help states and tribes pursue habitat restoration and natural infrastructure projects.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), ranking member on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, resubmitted an amendment that would establish a National Foundation for Resilience, a not-for-profit research foundation that reports to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

DeFazio previously rejected the Graves amendment during the committee's marathon markup of the $494 billion highway bill, saying it was outside the panel's jurisdiction.

Also among the pending amendments are a series of clean energy proposals that look to build on the bill's tilt toward promoting efficiency and generation sources capable of helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill already contains significant funding for energy efficiency projects, and two proposals — one from Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) and the other from Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) — would increase that bounty and help some 400,000 efficiency workers get back on track.

The Blunt Rochester amendment would authorize $20 billion over the next five years for states, federal buildings and tribes to upgrade public building infrastructure with efficiency retrofits for schools and hospitals.

The Norcross amendment would authorize establishing a rebate program to promote efficiency from industrial power uses.

Other notable energy- and environment-related amendments include:

  • An amendment from Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) that would establish a $30 million prize program for direct air capture technologies — widely considered a critical tool to meet global climate goals.
  • An amendment from Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) that would provide $6 billion to address deferred maintenance needs across the Department of Energy's laboratory complex.
  • An amendment from Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) that would mandate that all new buses purchased using Federal Transit Administration funds be zero-emission starting in 2029.

Water legislation

While Democrats and Republicans have clashed over the process for crafting and advancing the lower chamber's infrastructure plan, there has been consensus on the Water Resources Development Act.

DeFazio has said he plans to involve GOP members of the T&I Committee in crafting the WRDA reauthorization, which will be handled separately from the infrastructure bill. The text is slated to be released in July.

The T&I Republican aide said his party agrees with the approach of moving WRDA separately.

Doing so, the aide said, presents the best chance for WRDA to become law and aligns with past bipartisan efforts to finish the bill, which reauthorizes spending every two years.

The aide added that when Democrats crafted the infrastructure bill, they failed to notify Republicans of several changes once State Revolving Fund language was added to the measure.

For example, Republicans would only later learn that the bill included a new grant program to help communities affected by contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

GOP members were also caught off guard when the bill omitted a provision that would allow regulated entities to renew National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits every 10 years, as opposed to every five years, the aide said.

Water amendments filed to H.R. 2 include:

  • An amendment from Michigan Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee, Elissa Slotkin and Rashida Tlaib to add $4.5 billion per fiscal year for five years for replacing lead service lines, a move that's necessary to protect drinking water. Priority would be given to vulnerable disadvantaged, low-income, tribal or Indigenous communities and those of color.
  • An amendment from Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) to direct funds for combating sewer overflows in the Great Lakes, a region currently seeing historic water levels.
  • Another Moore amendment to create a research program at EPA to support ongoing efforts to use wastewater surveillance to track trends and the prevalence of COVID-19.
  • An amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) to require EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office to analyze the uncertainty of models used to carry out its cleanup program for the bay.

In the Senate

In contrast to the partisan tensions on the T&I Committee, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a $287 billion highway bill last summer.

"America's Transportation Infrastructure Act," S. 2302, garnered strong support from both Democrats and Republicans on the EPW panel, who praised its climate and permitting provisions, respectively.

"Unlike the Democrats' partisan bill in the House of Representatives, ATIA has broad support from both parties and outside stakeholders," a spokesman for EPW Republicans said in an email to E&E News.

The EPW Committee has also approved two pieces of water infrastructure legislation on a bipartisan basis, and EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has floated the possibility of combining them for floor debate.

The panel will meet Wednesday for a hearing titled "Better, Faster, Cheaper, Smarter and Stronger: Infrastructure Development Opportunities to Drive Economic Recovery and Resiliency."

Schedule: The House Rules Committee meeting is Monday, June 29, at 1 p.m. and via webcast.

Schedule: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing is Wednesday, July 1, at 10 a.m. in 106 Dirksen and via webcast.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.

Twitter: @maxinejoselowEmail: mjoselow@eenews.net

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