Wasserman Schultz makes climate pitch in Appropriations gavel bid

DeLauro, Kaptur are also running for the slot

Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., attends a House Appropriations Committee markup on July 9, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., attends a House Appropriations Committee markup on July 9, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 20, 2020 at 12:20pm

Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a 10-point climate change "action plan" Friday as she prepares for the final days of campaigning to succeed retiring House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y.

The four-page plan is broken down into proposals to boost spending to address environmental disparities that impact minorities; clean energy and transportation; sustainable infrastructure; disaster mitigation; international climate resilience; preparing the U.S. military; funding for agricultural and science programs; and government subsidies for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf.

“It is time for the Appropriations Committee, to work together with the committees of jurisdiction to double down on combating climate change,” Wasserman Schultz wrote in an introduction. “Substantial federal investments are desperately needed to expedite the transition to clean energy and blunt the impacts already afflicting our communities — especially communities of color.”

Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio are also running for the slot. Wasserman Schultz is a much more junior member of the panel waging something of a dark horse campaign, but she's an accomplished party fundraiser and has rounded up support from disparate factions within the caucus.

House Democrats are expected to vote the week of Nov. 30 to determine which of the three will become the next chairwoman of a committee that determines where about $1.4 trillion in federal funds are spent each year.

In her climate proposal, Wasserman Schultz says her initiatives will help support the vision President-elect Joe Biden laid out during his campaign by “prioritizing both an inclusive, clean energy future and federal investment in transitional communities, creating millions of good-paying jobs and protecting our planet for generations to come.”

Among the proposals are instituting an environmental justice ombudsman at the Environmental Protection Agency, investing in modernizing the electrical grid to facilitate “the adoption of new energy sources and [enhance] grid security,” and advancing “ambitious” transit projects, “including the construction of a modern national high-speed rail network, new intercity passenger rail projects, and bus rapid transit.”

Wasserman Schultz would also prioritize funding for the National Flood Insurance Program to improve flood maps; ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency has funding for disaster mitigation grant programs; and boost National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding to address harmful algae blooms, such as red tides that can release dangerous toxins.

No funding would be appropriated for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or for the federal government to lease seismic testing or fossil fuel extraction in the Outer Continental Shelf.

Some of the proposals in Wasserman Schultz’s outline are already in existing legislation and would likely to receive bipartisan support in the future.

Other suggestions are likely to receive pushback from Republican lawmakers, especially if that party holds onto control of the Senate following two Georgia runoff races on Jan. 5.

Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is unlikely to support legislation that takes back provisions in the 2017 Republican tax bill that opened up 1.5 million acres within ANWR to drilling. Murkowski called the provision a “historic moment."

Wasserman Schultz also might not have enough funding to enact all of the new initiatives, especially if Republicans keep the Senate.

The two-year spending caps agreement that set discretionary spending levels for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 is about to expire. Spending levels will be determined by the next administration, congressional leaders and the Budget committees in each chamber.