Bay Area Democrats want to pass climate change laws. Can they deliver?

Now that Democrats have full control of Washington for the first time in a decade, Bay Area lawmakers want to make sure they don’t come away empty-handed. For many of them, that means seeing green.

After several years of historically severe forest fires, recurring heat waves and droughts, climate change related bills are high on the agendas of many lawmakers with local ties.

Some of the legislative proposals focus on energy issues, such as investing in electric vehicle charging stations and planning employment transitions for fossil fuel workers. Others would tackle the threats of extreme weather conditions by allocating more money to reduce the risk of forest fires, strengthen water infrastructure and modernize the electricity grid.

The political calculation is heavy. On the one hand, Bay Area lawmakers want to deliver tangible political victories to their progressive base, which is calling for a dramatic plan to stem climate change. But the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress are narrow, and they contain centrists who are reluctant to go as far as many on the left want – the prime example being West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is more pro-pro. fossil fuels than most in his country. Party.

“I expect us to do something big. The only question is: will it be big enough? Said San Rafael Rep. Jared Huffman, a strong progressive on climate issues who is working to get the country off fossil fuels. “That’s what we’ll find out here in the next few months, but I’m optimistic.”

The process is accelerating as lawmakers contemplate a $ 2 trillion infrastructure package outlined by President Biden that places a heavy emphasis on energy and climate initiatives. But the infrastructure bill is not the only possibility for major legislation to pass – annual items like credits and defense authorization bills could also include environmental aspects.

Here are three areas where Bay Area lawmakers are considering changes that could have a local impact.

Transition of fossil fuel workers

Despite its strict environmental regulations and climate goals, California is still the country’s seventh largest crude oil producer. Even in the deeply liberal Bay Area, thousands of people work with fossil fuels, including refineries in Contra Costa and Solano counties.

Many of these workers are represented by Representative Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who tries to advance both the environmental interests and the economy of his district. One of his new bills, HR 1817, would provide financial support to communities to develop plans to transition oil and gas workers to new jobs. Labor groups, oil and gas industry leaders and environmental justice advocates would all have seats at the table.

“It’s about having a more serious conversation,” DeSaulnier said. “We’re not going to do what we did in West Virginia and assume a coal miner can change jobs easily. … We want to be respectful of the difficulty, and also make sure they have good paying jobs.

The California legislature has just seen how climate policies can clash with union interests when a bill that would have banned hydraulic fracturing and other methods of oil extraction died in committee, in part because intense opposition from fossil fuel workers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom responded with his own directive to stop issuing hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024 and plan to phase out all oil production by 2045. As with the bill, the announcement of Newsom has encountered swift opposition from oil groups, union leaders and some politicians in communities dependent on oil-related companies.

“Particularly here in the Bay Area, we really need to put the workforce and the environmental movement on the same page,” DeSaulnier said.

Strengthen climate resilience and renewable energies

Biden’s plan calls for a lot of funding for climate resilience, which could mean a lot of money for Bay Area projects like tackling sea level rise at airports in San Francisco and d ‘Oakland and rethink struggling infrastructure like Highway 37, a crucial route for North Bay motorists who floods often during the rainy season.

Democrats are also looking for new spending to support cars that don’t run on gasoline. DeSaulnier is carrying a bill that would allocate $ 3 billion for electric car charging stations and refueling stations for vehicles running on hydrogen. It’s another priority for Biden, whose infrastructure plan calls for massive investments to move the country away from gasoline cars. It’s also a top priority for California, which plans to end the sale of gasoline cars in 2035.

“The investments in this bill, in charging infrastructure, will help California meet these goals and help people who live in areas with high traffic pollution – people who live near ports, warehouses or simply highways – to breathe cleaner air, ”said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Senator Alex Padilla, months after his appointment to the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris, is trying to achieve a quick political victory by getting Congress to back a massive investment in low-carbon school buses. In tandem with newly elected Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Padilla recently introduced a bill that would spend $ 25 billion over 10 years to replace hundreds of thousands of diesel-powered school buses with electric buses.

Preparing for forest fires and droughts

Senator Dianne Feinstein said, when she agreed last year not to run for President of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that she would focus her efforts on the worsening wildfire and drought problems in California. His office is working on a bill that would provide more money for fire prevention projects, revising a bill that was not brought forward last year. She has already introduced a measure that would provide hundreds of millions of dollars to restore three canals in the Central Valley, and her office is working on legislation to fund desalination projects and water storage infrastructure.

These legislative efforts come as much of California is experiencing some level of drought, with state-declared emergencies in two counties and water restrictions already imposed in Marin County. Last year’s wildfire season saw more acres burnt than in any other record year, and this year’s dry conditions set the stage for more serious fires in the months to come.

“There are two issues that pose serious threats to California: drought and wildfires, and climate change makes them much more dangerous,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Huffman noted that major investments in the power grid could have a big impact on fire prevention, as sparkling power lines have been responsible for several devastating fires in recent years.

The infrastructure opportunity

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco will play a key role in shaping the infrastructure bill. Widely regarded as a master tactician and counter-vote, Pelosi can only lose two Democrats in the House to push a bill through with his slim majority and will need to craft the bill carefully to form the largest coalition possible.

“She’s in her element with this, and every indication I get from President Pelosi is that she understands this is a once in a generation, maybe once in a lifetime to go big,” said Huffman.

Representative John Garamendi, a Democrat from Walnut Grove who is one of the legislators spearheading the drafting of the bill, compared the impact of the bill to the appetites of Americans during the time of the pandemic for puzzles.

“None of these pieces are new,” Garamendi said. “Each of these are programs, policies that have been known and discussed, and many of them have been implemented over the past 50 years. … This bill brings it all together and creates a future in which we transition from the infrastructure of the 1900s to the infrastructure of the 21st century.

Tal Kopan is the San Francisco Chronicle Washington correspondent. JD Morris is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @talkopan, @thejdmorris

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