Washington Report – February 2021

Feb 24, 2021 | Blog, Washington Report

Washington Report - Feb 2021

Once again, extreme weather is forcing politicians to refocus on climate change. February has brought a series of nasty ice storms to DC, but that’s nothing compared to what Texas and other parts of the southwest have faced. Thousands in Texas were without power, as freezing temperatures overwhelmed the state’s independent, deregulated power grid.

In bad faith, some politicians and conservative media personalities rushed to blame renewable energy. While it’s true that some wind power was taken offline due to icing, the vast majority of the energy drop off came from non-renewable sources, like underperforming methane gas plants. (What’s more, the icy turbines can be fixed with some simple weatherization. Wind turbines perform just fine in places like Iowa, Norway, and even Antarctica.)

Like blackouts in California during last summer’s catastrophic fire season, these winter storms remind us that climate change is here—and our electrical grid needs serious help to meet the challenge. Modernizing the grid and strengthening transmission lines can also create many thousands of good jobs.

Covid relief priorities
IPL affiliates and people of faith across the country spent much of 2020 advocating for environmental priorities in Covid relief, educating our neighbors and our elected leaders on the ways in which solutions to the pandemic and the climate crisis are interrelated. In December, we saw success with the passage of a Covid relief bill with a strong climate and energy subsection.

Now, we’re back to advocate for our priorities in the $1.9 trillion Covid relief package currently being debated by Congress. This bill is targeted to be signed into law by mid-March, when many of the assistance programs extended in December lapse. Our priorities include:

Environmental justice
As the pandemic rages on, we’ve gotten more and more data showing that Covid-19 is deadliest in the communities with the most pollution. The fact that Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) have been forced to bear an unfair burden of pollution for decades contributes to the virus’s devastating impact in BIPOC communities. To respond to this pandemic equitably, we must:
Protect the $100 million for environmental justice monitoring and grants in the House Energy and Commerce Committee markup.

Utility assistance and weatherization
Heat, clean water, and reliable electricity are at the top of the list when we think about what our neighbors need to be safe at home right now. We can achieve that by:
Placing a moratorium on utility shut-offs
Increasing funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help low-income households pay their utility bills
Investing more in the Weatherization Assistance Program to lower energy bills for those households in the longer term

Support for public transit
Our essential workers depend on safe, reliable public transportation—by extension, we all do. If our transit systems don’t make it through this crisis, it will be a disaster for both our communities and our climate. We must:
Provide funding to support local transit systems across the country

Climate and Infrastructure
After the passage of the immediate relief bill currently being debated (which will hopefully happen in mid-March), Congress and President Biden will turn their attention to rebuilding the economy with a green infrastructure package. Congressional leaders and the White House have just started conversations about what will be included in that package, but our priorities include:

Modernize the grid, update water infrastructure, and expand clean, renewable energy sources
Sustainable infrastructure increases preparedness and builds community-level resilience to disasters, which benefits us all. We need to modernize our electrical grid, increasing its climate resiliency and ensuring it is prepared for an expansion of distributed renewable energy.
Too many communities, especially in low-income urban neighborhoods and in Indigenous communities, don’t have access to clean water. We must invest in lead pipe remediation, as well as programs like the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The RECLAIM Act (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act – HR 2156 / SB 1232 in the 116th Congress)
The RECLAIM Act will distribute $1 billion from the existing federal Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund to states and tribes across the country. The AML funds are already collected and ready to use to clean up abandoned coal mines and the lands and waters polluted by them. AML restoration will also promote economic diversification, targeting our neighbors in the most economically distressed coal communities across the nation.
States and tribes can use the money to develop strategic mine reclamation projects that are linked to development projects on the reclaimed sites. The RECLAIM Act will assist communities struggling with job loss by diversifying their economies and creating jobs doing mine reclamation across the country.

30 Million Solar Homes
This proposal envisions a broad investment in solar installation and solar jobs, with a strong focus on funding and increasing access in BIPOC and low-income communities. It would allow low-income households currently using energy assistance funds to access or install solar panels as a way to lower their energy bills. This would decrease the amount of federal funds needed for energy assistance in the long term, while also caring for Creation by reducing climate pollution.
This proposal would also convert the solar investment tax credit to a grant, enabling nonprofit organizations like houses of worship to take full advantage of the federal incentives for clean energy.
Go to www.30millionsolarhomes.org to learn more.

Electrify transportation
Incentivize electric light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-and-heavy-duty vehicles such as school buses, commercial truck fleets, and port freight trucks by enacting policies which lower barriers to clean vehicle adoption, build charging infrastructure, and provide equitable access to clean vehicles.
Invest in battery technology and manufacturing.
Invest in mass transit infrastructure and electrification. Nearly 3 million essential workers rely on public transit to get to their jobs, making the solvency of mass transit critical to both the public health response and the economic recovery. Many more millions, especially in low-income communities, rely on public transportation for their daily commutes. Congress should provide emergency funding to keep systems running during the crisis as well as longer-term investment aimed at expansion and electrification of existing services.

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