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House Passes $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill

With little Republican support, the House of Representatives passed an infrastructure bill with a price tag of $1.5 trillion.

 

By a vote of 233-188, House members approved H.R. 2, which reauthorizes federal transportation and infrastructure programs through Fiscal Year 2025. The bill deals with traditional transportation issues, such as highway funding and public transit, but it also contains a number of measures related to renewable energy and climate change.

 

Initially, the House of Representatives was considering an infrastructure bill that would cost roughly $500 billion. However, under pressure from some in the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party, House leadership instead put forward a much more expensive bill that contained many environmental priorities.

 

Those who supported H.R. 2 said that it is necessary for the federal government to concentrate on moving America towards a greener energy structure. They say that doing so will both combat climate change and give the U.S. an economic advantage over other nations. To make this happen, H.R. 2 contained items such as providing federal money to electric vehicle charging stations and setting up a grant fund for local initiatives to fight greenhouse gases.

 

Republicans opposed the bill on the grounds that it was too expensive and contained a wish list of ineffective ideas from the Green New Deal. They argued that the bill should be focused on transportation, not liberal environmental ideas. Only three members of the GOP caucus supported the legislation.

 

There is broad agreement with Democrats and Republicans in Congress and with President Trump that they should advance an infrastructure bill this year. The current transportation authorization expires in September. However, the Senate is unlikely to consider the infrastructure bill passed by the House this week.

 

Do you support spending $1.5 trillion on transportation infrastructure and projects to fight climate change?

New Federal Rule Will Speed Up Pipeline Approval

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule that will limit the ability of states to use federal law to delay or stop pipeline projects.

 

Under a change to the regulations that administer the Clean Water Act, states will have one year to voice objections to pipelines that cross their waterways. The new rule also says that these objections must be limited to water quality concerns. If states take longer than a year to complete their review, or they include other matters in their objection, the federal government will issue permits to the pipeline company.

 

The Trump Administration accused states of using this law to impose years of delay on energy infrastructure projects. Officials also said that these states were going beyond the bounds of the law to stop or delay pipelines based on criteria that had nothing to do with clean water. EPA officials argue that this change in the rules will allow states to voice legitimate concerns over projects but will not give them power to drag out the process and stop important national infrastructure from being built.

 

Environmentalists and some state officials are strongly opposed to this new move. They contend that this is a way for the Trump Administration to favor fossil fuel companies over environmental concerns. They also note that this is diminishes states’ power to protect their waterways.

 

Groups opposed to the new rule have vowed to fight it in court.

 

Do you think that states should have the power to delay pipeline projects for multiple years over environmental concerns?

Biden Vows to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline has been a controversial proposal for 10 years. President Trump has been very vocal about his approval for this trans-national pipeline, but this week his 2020 opponent, Joe Biden, said that he will stop the project.

 

The pipeline, which will link Canadian oil fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast, was first proposed in 2010. President Obama blocked the approval of the pipeline’s crossing of the U.S.-Canadian border, but President Trump reversed this decision. There have also been numerous court cases over the pipeline.

 

The company that owns the pipeline intends to complete it in 2023, once any legal disputes are resolved. But if Joe Biden is elected president, he said that he will revoke U.S. approval. This could lead to years more of court cases.

 

Supporters of the pipeline say it will provide affordable energy to the U.S., giving consumers a financial windfall. They also point to the jobs it will create both during its construction and operation. Opponents, however, say most of these jobs will be temporary. They also argue that the pipeline will only increase the U.S.’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and that the pipeline itself will disturb important natural habitats.

 

Do you support completion of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Virginia Enacts Carbon-Free Energy Law

By 2050, Virginia’s utilities must be producing carbon-free energy under a law signed this week by Gov. Ralph Northam.

 

This legislation requires that Dominion Energy, which serves most of the state, to provide energy to customers that was made without any carbon emissions by 2045. Another utility, which serves a smaller part of the state, must go carbon-free by 2050.

 

Those who support this measure say it is necessary to help combat climate change. They argue that this transition will create jobs in the clean energy sector and improve the state’s environment. Opponents, however, predict that this will raise energy costs for consumers and businesses. They note that such an outcome will destroy jobs and hurt the state’s economy.

 

When Virginia voters elected a Democratic majority to the state’s legislature, these legislators ran on an ambitious slate of liberal ideas. This carbon-free mandate was one of those proposals. Republicans had controlled the legislature or the governorship prior to 2019’s elections, and had prevented Democratic legislators’ attempts to pass many of these bills in previous years.

 

A handful of other states have mandated a switch to no-carbon energy production, but Virginia is the first southern state to do so.

Trump Administration Alters Obama Fuel Efficiency Rule

The Department of Transportation today announced that it is changing the federal regulation requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency. Under the new rule, car manufactures must increase fleet fuel efficiency by 1.5% every year. That is a change from the standards set under President Obama, which mandated a 5% yearly fuel efficiency improvement.

 

This announcement affects the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, a federal mandate on carmakers. Under this requirement, car manufacturers must increase the fuel efficiency of their entire fleet by a certain amount. Not every model of car needs to be more efficient year-after-year, but the average for the fleet must improve.

 

The Trump Administration defends its actions, pointing out that overall fuel efficiency will still increase, just not by as much as mandated under President Obama. The President notes that this will make cars more affordable, saving consumers money – something he says is especially important given the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.


Critics, however, say this is a step backwards in terms of environmental policy. They argue that this will hurt efforts to fight climate change. They also contend that consumers will be worse off, since they will be spending more money on fuel over the long-term.

 

Environmental groups are preparing to challenge the rule change in court.

 

Do you support reducing the federal mandate on automakers to produce vehicles that are more fuel efficient?

Senate to Consider Energy Bill This Week

Energy issues will be in the forefront of Senate debate this week. Senators will consider legislation that contains a host of new energy initiatives.

 

Among the items in S. 2657 are:

  • Set energy efficiency standards for federal buildings
  • Extend incentives for hydropower
  • Provide credits for consumers who purchase energy efficient appliances
  • Promote research of nuclear power
  • Authorize more funding for research into renewable energy technology
  • Provide funds for carbon capture
  • Ease restrictions on mining for critical minerals

 

This legislation largely avoids taking on more controversial energy policies, such as greater efforts to tackle climate change.

 

Sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), this bill has bipartisan support. However, some Democrats have expressed concern that provisions may be too friendly to mining interest. They also say that the bill should go further in tackling climate change. However, even in the face of this opposition, the bill is expected to pass easily later this week. It is unclear if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will bring it for a vote in that chamber.

 

What should Congress do about climate change?

NY Plastic Bag Ban Takes Effect

Starting this week, shoppers can no longer expect to receive single-use plastic bags from New York stores.

 

A statewide ban on these bags took effect on Sunday. Proponents say it is a good step towards cleaning up the environment. Opponents argue that it will do little to help the environment, but a lot to hurt small businesses and consumers.

 

Legislators passed the ban on plastic bags last year, but delayed its effective date. State officials had been ramping up a public education campaign about the ban in the weeks leading up to its implementation. On Sunday, restaurants and stores were supposed to stop offering these bags to consumers.

 

Instead of single-use plastic bags, consumers are now expected to use multi-use tote bags. A state program provides such bags for some low-income families. The plastic bag ban is not absolute, since they can still be used for some items, such as pharmaceuticals or uncooked meat.

 

Those who supported this ban say that plastic bags end up in landfills or as litter. They say that prohibiting their use will cut down on this pollution that causes environmental problems. Opponents counter that these bags make up a very small amount of either landfill use or litter. They also note that this new law will be a large burden for businesses that must now change how they serve customers.

 

Two other states also have statewide bans on single-use plastic bags, while others are looking at such prohibitions.

 

Do you support banning single-use plastic bags?

Washington Bill Would Ban Bottled Water Production in the State

Under a bill being considered by the Washington legislature, companies could not extract groundwater from the state and use it to produce bottled water.

 

Some environmental groups are pushing this bill to ban bottled water production in Washington and other states, saying that groundwater is an “essential public resource.” According to these groups, water should not be used for corporate profit, but be left for the use of the state’s residents. Opponents counter that bottled water plants create jobs. They also note that there is enough groundwater for use in bottled water plants as well as for local residents.

 

This legislation is the first nationwide that would enact such a ban. However, other states are considering laws that could restrict the use of groundwater for bottled water. Other legislation would impose new taxes on the industry.

 

There have also been local efforts to fight bottled water companies that want to open plants. These are the result of residents who fear the impact on their water supplies. The companies point out that they have a positive economic impact in areas and contend they are not depleting springs or ground water.

 

It is unclear if the Washington bill has enough support to pass the legislature. Governor Jay Inslee has not yet taken a position on the legislation.

 

Do you support banning companies from extracting groundwater for sale as bottled water?

Ocasio-Cortez Introduces Fracking Ban Bill

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would disappear from the United States under a new bill filed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

 

Fracking is used by energy companies to produce oil and natural gas. The process involves injecting a highly-pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into underground shale rock to break it up and release oil or, more commonly, natural gas.

 

The use of fracking has been primarily responsible for the large increase in U.S. petroleum production over the past decade. It has made it much cheaper to access oil and natural gas in shale rock, leading to increased production and lower prices. However, residents in communities where fracking has occurred blame it for earthquakes, polluted water, and health problems.

 

Under the legislation sponsored by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, fracking would be banned in 2025. In 2021, fracking could only occur if it was not within 2,500 feet of homes or schools. She says this legislation is necessary to protect health, land, and water. Others point out that her bill would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and hurt U.S. energy production, leading to higher oil and natural gas prices for consumers.

 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.

 

Do you think that fracking should be banned?

South Dakota Set to Ban Plastic Straw Bans

Some cities and states are banning the use of plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. South Dakota legislators want to go in the other direction – they are considering prohibiting cities from imposing such bans.

 

South Dakota senators are likely to approve legislation that would stop local governments from banning single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, and other types of packaging. This would pre-empt local bans that have occurred in cities in other states, though not in South Dakota.

 

Activists have increasingly attacked single-use plastic bags and straws due to concerns about plastic pollution. Supporters of these bans argue that they are necessary to protect wildlife, reduce litter, and save landfill space.

 

Legislators in South Dakota disagree, however. They note that such bans affect small businesses, making it more difficult for them to offer the products that consumers want. People with disabilities also contend that such bans hurt individuals who need to use straws because of mobility issues. There is also skepticism about how much such bans do to reduce plastic use.

 

While there have been efforts in cities and counties to ban the use of these plastic products, this has prompted some states to consider pre-emption laws similar to what’s being proposed in South Dakota. Fourteen states have passed laws that take this power away from local governments.

 

The legislative session in South Dakota lasts through March 30.

 

Do you support banning businesses from providing plastic bags and straws?

New Energy Secretary Stresses Importance of Coal

Dan Brouillette, the new Energy Secretary, says that he has orders from the White House to find ways to help the U.S. coal industry.

 

President Trump campaigned on a pro-coal platform during his 2016 run for the White House. Since taking office, he has often talked about the importance of coal and has directed federal officials to find ways to increase coal use.

 

Secretary Brouillette has received orders from the White House to find different ways to utilize coal. It is unclear what the federal government can do to accomplish this. The Trump Administration had floated an initiative in the past that would essentially subsidize coal production and use, but this failed to gain traction.

 

The U.S. coal industry has been struggling in recent years due to a variety of factors. It is facing criticism from environmentalists due to coal’s carbon emissions, which experts link to climate change. Coal had long been the dominant source for generating electricity, but in recent years its use has been declining. Some of that is due to environmental concerns, but it is also being undercut by the increasing use of natural gas. Coal is more expensive to use than natural gas, so coal plants are shutting down as natural as plants are being built.

 

Supporters of coal, such as President Trump, hail its mining for creating good-paying jobs. They also say that it provides a source of reliable electricity, something that wind or solar cannot do. Critics argue that it’s time to move away from a dirty fuel source.

 

The Senate confirmed Brouillette to be Secretary of Energy by a 70-15 vote this week. He takes over from Rick Perry, who resigned earlier this year.

 

Do you think the U.S. government should take actions to boost the coal industry?

Biden Unveils $1.3 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

Today former Vice President Joe Biden announced an infrastructure plan that he says will “rebuild the middle class.” Critics say that it will impose a huge tax burden on Americans.

 

These are some of the key aspects of Biden’s proposal:

  • A $50 billion federal initiative to repair roads and bridges
  • Secure “new revenues” for the Highway Trust Fund, a federal fund collecting revenue from fuel taxes
  • Spend $5 billion to research new battery technology
  • Use federal resources to expand the electric car charging system
  • Spend $500 billion in clean energy research
  • Expand rail service
  • Provide public transportation to cities with 100,000 residents or more
  • Target $10 billion to high-poverty areas to improve public transit
  • Promote infrastructure that leads to a 100% clean energy economy
  • Create a federal program to promote building energy efficiency
  • Provide broadband service to every American household
  • Create a new federal program to spend $100 billion in school buildings

 

This plan gathers together many proposals put forward by liberal and progressive groups and elected officials. Biden argues that they will transform the economy for the future, providing good jobs for the middle class and helping clean the environment. Those who support these programs argue that it is vital that the federal government invest in this vision to ensure the U.S. has a sustainable future.


Critics, however, see these ideas as both unrealistic and expensive. They note that it’s easy to say that these programs will achieve their goals, but similar government initiatives in the past have failed. They also note the high price tag for such a program, saying that taxes will have to go up to pay for it or the government will have to go deeper in debt.

 

Biden faces a crowded field of rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It remains to be seen if ideas like these will help him win votes from the left wing of the party being courted by other candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

 

Do you support the federal government paying for more high-speed rail service? Should there be a federal push for a 100% clean-energy economy?

 

Trump Readies to Withdraw from Paris Climate Agreement

President Donald Trump has long wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change. This week, he began the process to do so.

 

The Paris agreement was signed in 2016, and is a pact among nations to attempt a reduction in carbon emissions. The goal is to keep global temperature change in check. Nations pledge to reduce emissions at a certain level, although the agreement is not binding. Every nation on earth is party to the agreement.

 

According to President Trump, this international agreement hobbles U.S. industrial capacity and costs our nation jobs. He ran for office pledging to withdraw from it, and is putting that promise in action this week. Opponents of his move argue that this is a step backwards in the fight against climate change.

 

The structure of the agreement does not allow a withdrawal from it until three years after signing. That time period elapsed on Monday. The agreement also says that any nation wishing to withdraw must give notice and then wait a year. That means that the U.S. departure will take effect in 2020, a day after the presidential election.

 

While President Obama never submitted this agreement to the Senate for ratification, he did sign it and pledge U.S. support.

 

Do you agree that the U.S. should withdraw from the Paris climate agreement that calls for a reduction in U.S. carbon emissions?

“Right to a Safe Climate” Suit Heads to Alaska High Court

The justices of the Alaskan Supreme Court will soon be hearing a case that poses a unique question – is the state’s promotion of fossil fuels responsible for hurting young Alaskans’ right to a safe climate?

 

The young plaintiffs filing this lawsuit contend that the climate is something that should be held in the public trust like wildlife or air. The state, they say, is harming this climate by promoting the use of fossil fuels. Alaska has a large petroleum industry as well as a state law that calls on the state to support using fossil fuels. Under the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking to have this state fossil fuel law overruled and to require the state to come up with a climate change recovery plan.

 

The basis of the suit is the allegation that the use of fossil fuels by Alaska is causing climate change that will, within the lifetime of young Alaskans, cause irreparable harm. Some of the Alaskans filing the suit are natives whose villages have suffered from rising sea levels.

 

Those opposing the suit argue that the courts are not the place to resolve questions of climate change. Instead, they say, this is best left to scientists to determine what is causing this change and what could be done to mitigate it. Then legislators, not judges, should decide what steps should be taken.

 

Similar lawsuits have been thrown out by Alaska courts in the past, but this one has survived legal scrutiny so far. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on October 9, then render a decision if this case can go to trial.

 

Do you support lawsuits over climate change?

Trump Administration Expands Ethanol Mandate

Today the Trump Administration took steps to shore up support among corn farmers – it announced a package of changes to the federal biofuels mandate that will increase the use of ethanol.

 

Under the new rules announced today, the Environmental Protection Agency will require that oil refiners use a higher mix of biofuels. By next year this will require 15 billion more galls of biofuels to be used than the law creating the renewable fuel standard mandated.

 

During the administration of George W. Bush, Congress passed legislation creating a mandate that refiners must use a certain amount of biofuel. This is known as the renewable fuel standard, and is an area of contention between farmers and refiners and others who oppose ethanol.

 

Farmers support a stricter biofuel mandate because it leads to a larger market for corn. Refiners oppose it because they are forced to mix biofuel with traditional petroleum fuel, a practice they claim causes economic losses. Many consumer groups also oppose the use of biofuel like ethanol, arguing that it ruins engines and leads to lower fuel mileage.

 

The Trump Administration has generally been friendly towards the ethanol industry. Earlier this year it relaxed restrictions on the sale of fuel that contains a blend of 15% ethanol, or E15. That level of ethanol in the fuel represents an increase from the 10% ethanol fuel blends being sold.

 

Many farmers have been upset with the Trump Administration’s trade war, which has led to a loss of markets for some of their crops. They praised this move on biofuels as a way to help boost the farm economy. The petroleum industry blasted it, however, saying that it will lead to a loss of jobs in refineries.

 

Do you support the government mandating the use of more ethanol and biofuels?

Kamala Harris Backs Nationwide Plastic Straw Ban

Want a plastic straw with your drink in a restaurant? Sen. Kamala Harris doesn’t think that is a good idea.

 

During a CNN debate on climate change, Sen. Harris said that she supports a national ban on plastic straws. She did, however, acknowledge that paper straws do not work very well. Her campaign has said that she wants to see more innovation in straw production to make the elimination of plastic straws feasible. The debate was being held for the candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

 

California has a statewide ban on restaurants offering a plastic straw to a customer unless the customer requests one. A variety of cities have also enacted similar straw bans. Florida legislators passed a law that would prevent local governments from banning plastic straws, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it.

 

Plastic straws have come under attack from critics who allege they contribute to pollution, especially in the ocean. These backers of straw bans contend that ocean wildlife are harmed by these straws. Opponents of a straw ban counter that plastic pollution in the ocean overwhelmingly comes from places other than the U.S. They say that banning plastic straws will do very little, if anything, to address pollution concerns and will only inconvenience American consumers.

 

Do you support banning plastic straws?

Kamala Harris Backs Nationwide Plastic Straw Ban

Want a plastic straw with your drink in a restaurant? Sen. Kamala Harris doesn’t think that is a good idea.

 

During a CNN debate on climate change, Sen. Harris said that she supports a national ban on plastic straws. She did, however, acknowledge that paper straws do not work very well. Her campaign has said that she wants to see more innovation in straw production to make the elimination of plastic straws feasible. The debate was being held for the candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

 

California has a statewide ban on restaurants offering a plastic straw to a customer unless the customer requests one. A variety of cities have also enacted similar straw bans. Florida legislators passed a law that would prevent local governments from banning plastic straws, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed it.

 

Plastic straws have come under attack from critics who allege they contribute to pollution, especially in the ocean. These backers of straw bans contend that ocean wildlife are harmed by these straws. Opponents of a straw ban counter that plastic pollution in the ocean overwhelmingly comes from places other than the U.S. They say that banning plastic straws will do very little, if anything, to address pollution concerns and will only inconvenience American consumers.

 

Do you support banning plastic straws?

House to Consider Offshore Drilling Ban in September

The House of Representatives will take up the future of offshore drilling when it returns from its August recess.

 

In September, the House will be voting on two bills that would ban offshore drilling:

 

HR 205 – To permanently ban natural gas and oil exploration in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico.

 

HR 1941 – To prohibit issuing federal leases for oil and natural gas development in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf or the Pacific Continental Shelf. This would effectively ban offshore drilling off of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

 

Currently there is a moratorium on offshore natural gas and oil production in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The Trump Administration is considering a five-year energy leasing plan that would allow oil and gas development in the Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey to Florida. President Obama considered allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic, but reversed course after the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010.

 

Plans to allow oil and natural gas production in more offshore areas has been controversial. Supporters say it is a way to create jobs in coastal communities. They also note that there could be large amounts of gas and oil offshore that could be developed and reduce American reliance on foreign energy. Opponents fear accidents that would harm the environment and other coastal activities such as recreation and fishing.

 

There is bipartisan support for both the bills that will be considered by the House, and they are expected to pass. However, it is unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will schedule a vote on them.

 

Do you support permanently banning offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans?

Trump May Allow More Logging in Alaskan National Forest

Nearly 20 years ago, President Bill Clinton put in place a sweeping order that placed millions of acres of national forests off-limits to logging. Now President Donald Trump is considering reversing that move for a national forest in Alaska.

 

During his last days in office, President Clinton signed an executive order that banned road construction in 58.5 million acres of national forests. This “roadless rule” effectively prevents logging and other activity, such as using motorized vehicles. In Alaska, governors and members of Congress have fought to have the rule rolled back for the Tongass National Forest. President Trump is considering allowing this.

 

National forests are designated for multiple uses, such as logging, mining, conservation, and recreation. Congress can also designate wild areas as “wilderness,” which prevents any motorized uses of that area. Portions of the Tongass National Forest have been designated as wilderness, and other portions already have roads built on them. President Trump’s move would affect over 9 million acres that are still covered by the roadless rule.

 

Alaskan officials who want to remove this area from the roadless rule note that the national forest was always intended for uses that included logging. They say that Congress has protected vital areas of the forest from human uses. They argue that logging can create jobs and remove dead and dying trees that could fuel wildfires. Environmentalists, however, push back against attempts to allow logging in the Tongass. They say that this is a vital area for salmon and old-growth forests.

 

After President Clinton left office, President George W. Bush tried to reverse the roadless rule. These efforts were tied up in the courts. Any move by President Trump to withdraw the roadless rule from the Tongass National Forest will also likely end up in multiple lawsuits.

 

Do you support allowing more logging in the Tongass National Forest?

Washington State Fracking Ban Takes Effect

On Sunday, the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, became illegal in Washington State.

 

Supporters of the ban say it’s a victory for the environment. Opponents say that it’s a meaningless gesture that betrays a lack of knowledge about how fracking works.

 

During the past fifteen years, the use of hydraulic fracturing to access oil and natural gas has skyrocketed. This technique involves injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals far into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas or oil. It is largely responsible for the increased production of these energy sources in the U.S.

 

The technique has its critics, however. Some say that it pollutes groundwater and also diverts water from other sources. Others argue that by making it cheaper to access oil and natural gas, fracking is contributing to climate change.

 

Fracking has its supporters, however. They argue that fracking has reduce the price of natural gas, which has allowed gas to displace coal for energy production. That, they point out, has reduced U.S. carbon emissions. These supporters also point to studies that show that fracking does not pollute water sources.

 

This debate was largely symbolic in Washington, however. That state does not have a large oil and natural gas industry, and fracking was not used there. With the passage of the fracking ban, this process cannot be used in the future, either.

 

Do you think that fracking should be banned?

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