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Rep. Cori Bush speaks at a climate rally

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) speaks at a "No Climate, No Deal" rally in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2021. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Warning Against 'Exxon Infrastructure Deal,' Progressives Say Jobs Package Must Center Climate

"Enough negotiating with Republicans pushing environmental injustice. We should be the ones the Biden administration prioritizes at the table."

Jake Johnson

Nearly a dozen progressive lawmakers led by Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri said Thursday that the Democratic leadership must prioritize major investments in climate action in an emerging infrastructure package, pointing to ongoing heatwaves, wildfires, and floods across the country as evidence of the need for transformative changes to the nation's energy system.

"Climate action IS infrastructure—and we can't wait any longer to address it at the scale necessary."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal

In a letter (pdf) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the progressive lawmakers warned that neither the bipartisan infrastructure compromise nor President Joe Biden's original American Jobs Plan are sufficient to "reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving the climate crisis to the extent that science and justice require."

The group of House progressives—which includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.)—lamented that recent infrastructure talks on Capitol Hill have devolved into a "discouraging, tepid dance between the already compromised AJP and plans from Republicans and bipartisan coalitions that leave climate out entirely."

In particular, the lawmakers expressed concern about a recently leaked White House memo indicating that the Biden administration is focused heavily on tax credits, private investment, and other marginal tweaks that critics say fall far short of what's needed to prevent further climate catastrophe.

In their letter, the progressives cautioned that "relying solely on tax credits runs the risk of disproportionately benefiting the wealthy when we need to build up the public realm and raise everyone's quality of life by enshrining public utilities as human rights."

"We need a Green New Deal. We need a jobs and infrastructure plan that meets demands laid out in the Green New Deal—that prioritizes investments in frontline communities, ensures respect for tribal sovereignty, and includes robust labor standards and protections," the lawmakers wrote. "We are very concerned about missing this once-in-a-generation governing moment. This is our chance to make lasting investments that empower the public sphere. We will not be satisfied with advancing an expansive infrastructure bill without making comprehensive, direct investments in public renewable power."

Specifically, the letter urged Democratic congressional leaders to use the forthcoming infrastructure package to prioritize:

  • $250 billion in climate and environmental justice funding for local governments;
  • $1 trillion investment to build public renewables with union labor
  • $600 billion investment to expand public transit, passenger rail, and active transportation and rapidly electrify the transportation sector;
  • $600 billion investment to upgrade public housing and public schools;
  • $132 billion investment for a Civilian Climate Corps;
  • Direct 50% of funds to frontline communities; and
  • An end to directing public dollars towards subsidizing fossil fuels, matched with aggressive energy and equity standards to transition off of fossil fuels and support affected workers.

"We must push for an infrastructure and jobs bill that places climate justice at its center and puts us on track to exceed President Biden's own commitment of cutting U.S. [carbon] emissions in half by the end of the decade," the lawmakers wrote. "This is the very least we can do to avert the worst of the climate crisis. Anything less would be unacceptable and an abdication of our global responsibility."

The letter came as Democratic congressional leaders are hashing out the details of a sweeping infrastructure package that they hope to pass alongside the White House-endorsed bipartisan plan, which calls for just $579 billion in new spending and excludes most of the climate provisions that Biden put forth in his original American Jobs Plan.

Last week, Greenpeace U.K.'s investigative journalism arm released footage of an ExxonMobil lobbyist boasting about the oil giant's behind-the-scenes efforts to keep climate action out of any infrastructure package.

"An Exxon infrastructure deal would be most deadly for people who look like me," Bush tweeted on Thursday. "Enough negotiating with Republicans pushing environmental injustice. WE should be the ones the Biden administration prioritizes at the table. We need a Green New Deal and we need it now."

Democratic leaders say they intend to address the shortcomings of the bipartisan deal with a separate, multitrillion-dollar bill that will move through the budget reconciliation process, which is exempt from the Senate's 60-vote legislative filibuster.

Given that the reconciliation package is not likely to attract any Republican support, progressives in the House and Senate—where Democrats are clinging to narrow majorities—have significant leverage over the size and scope of the bill.

The question is whether they will decide to use it. Omar, the whip for the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said last month that dozens of House Democrats are prepared to withhold their votes from the bipartisan infrastructure deal if it is not accompanied by a reconciliation package that addresses climate and other priorities, such as child care and Medicare expansion.

CBS News reported Thursday that Senate Democrats intend to begin voting as early as the week of July 19 on the bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget resolution setting the stage for the reconciliation bill, which progressives hope will include at least $6 trillion in spending over the next decade.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC and a signatory to the new letter, tweeted Thursday evening that "recent historic heatwaves have literally been buckling roads, melting power cables, and shutting off our power."

"Climate action IS infrastructure—and we can't wait any longer to address it at the scale necessary," Jayapal added.

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