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Bloomberg Law: Top Environment Appropriator Aims to Direct Biden Climate Agenda
The new head of the panel overseeing funds for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to use the annual spending process to advance Democrats’ agenda on protecting the environment and addressing climate change.
“I would hope we can use the appropriations bill as a mechanism both to fund some positive things, but also look for ways to maybe just direct some of the activities of the administration’s policies in that direction,” Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said in an interview about her priorities in this Congress as head of the House Appropriations Interior-Environment Subcommittee.
But Pingree acknowledged the boundaries between appropriators, who decide spending amounts, and authorizers, who are responsible for crafting policy.
“It’s always sort of a conflict between how much language you can write into an appropriations bill,” Pingree said, “and I’m not always in favor of doing too much that way. We have a lot of choices around how we fund things, and I can see us using those tools to support the things the Biden administration has talked about, and others that we think are important.”
Pingree said she was “very supportive of everything in the Biden agenda” on climate. President Joe Biden has signed executive orders setting a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters, as well as blocking drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. House Democrats have offered amendments with similar aims on both issues in previous appropriations measures.
Role of Reconciliation
Pingree also expressed support for using reconciliation—a maneuver to expedite tax and spending measures—on legislation related to climate, “if it becomes the only mechanism we have.” Budget reconciliation would allow Democrats to pass bills in the Senate with just a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation.
“It’s obviously preferable to have regular order, a normal process, just because it’s always better to agree on things. That said, we’ve had some pretty discouraging experiences over the past few years of trying to work with a Senate and being blocked at every turn,” she said.
The Maine Democrat said Americans are “anxious” to see Congress enact legislation, and reconciliation is a tool that could be useful. “I think it’s important given the number of crises we’re dealing with at this moment in time—from the pandemic to the economy, climate change and just everything—we just have to get some things done.”
‘Rebuild the Agencies’
Pingree, who will work with the panel’s returning ranking member David Joyce (R-Ohio), said boosting the budgets and addressing the diminished and demoralized staff at science-based agencies is top of mind for her.
“We’ve had four years of an administration that has, in my opinion, done a lot of damage to agencies like the EPA and the Department of Interior. I think we’ll have a lot of work to do just to rebuild the agencies,” she said.
Pingree, who’s been an appropriator for seven years, said she is particularly interested in forest management, health care access in Indian country, and the regulation of “forever chemicals” in drinking water.
“There is a direct link to climate change in terms of healthy forests being important to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere, so I think there’ll be a lot of crossover with the Biden agenda. That’s an issue that it doesn’t really matter what side of the aisle or what part of the country you come from,” she said. “Forested states, between the forest fires and pest invasions and trade issues, there’s just a lot to deal with there.”
As for tackling per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, “there’s just a growing body of evidence that PFAS is everywhere, and we’re not doing a very good job of measuring it,” Pingree said.
E&E Daily: Pingree wants to rebuild EPA, Interior after Trump cuts
Maine Democrat Chellie Pingree, the House's new top EPA and Interior appropriator, is eager to reverse the Trump administration's attempts to "dismantle" those agencies and move ahead on new environment protections proposed by the Biden White House.
The seventh-term lawmaker was recently named chairwoman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee for the 117th Congress, replacing Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who will head the Defense Subcommittee.
Pingree will be at the forefront of executing President Biden's environmental agenda as she oversees the writing of the annual spending bill for EPA and the Interior Department.
"I've been very frustrated over the last four years to watch the Trump administration dismantle the Department of Interior and the EPA; underfund many of the agencies there; and lose or fire a lot of really good, knowledgeable people. I think it will be critical to help build them back," she told E&E News during an interview this week.
Pingree said she was especially dismayed over former President Trump's attempts to curb climate work across agencies and even eliminate references to climate change on government websites.
Pingree said she expects the new administrator to reverse many of those policies, which she said the Democratic Congress will be eager to fund.
A progressive who signed on to the Green New Deal, Pingree said she likes the new administration's initial environmental proposals, including bans on new leases for drilling on federal lands and its "30x30" push to conserve the nation's lands and waters.
She said Biden has struck a good balance of preserving some revenues for states and local communities by not ending existing energy leases on public lands.
Pingree, whose district is home to the state's largest lobster landing and who has a track record of looking out for its fishing industry, said Maine's fishermen and lobstermen would be supportive of proposals to protect the ocean, especially limiting offshore drilling.
She also said they are concerned about warming waters that have forced much of the state's shrimp harvest farther north to waters controlled by Canada.
"Lobstermen and fishermen in our state are united in opposing offshore oil drilling because of its potential as a huge source of damage if there was ever a problem, [like] we've seen in the Gulf [of Mexico] waters" with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, she added.
Forests, land and parks
Pingree said she is still familiarizing herself with many aspects of the Interior Department budget but said she does not support the Trump administration's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Colorado.
She said there has been "a lot of chaos" around the move and believes it was largely an attempt to decimate experienced staff and undo the agency's mission.
As for the National Park Service, Pingree said she believes the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will help with dollars for maintenance backlogs.
She said the deferred work at Acadia National Park, which lies north of her district, has been "scandalous, practically," and she's eager to free up more funding in her bill for parks, which have proved popular getaways amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pingree said the new head of the park service needs to focus on the impact of climate change at the parks, an issue largely ignored under Trump.
Pingree, whose state is the most forested in the nation, will now have jurisdiction over Forest Service funding. She wants to apply lessons she learned as a Maine legislator to federal forest policy, particularly striking a "good balance" between timber harvesting and preserving trees.
She said that as Maine has lost its paper industry, it has focused more on sustainable products made from trees, like building materials and biofuel.
"There are huge opportunities for looking at forests as an important part of sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere," said Pingree.
She added that she has no problem with the House Republicans' plan to plant a trillion trees to fight climate change, but she stressed that trees alone won't do enough to curb emissions.
'Grew up in the environmental movement'
A native of the Midwest, Pingree moved to Maine in the early 1970s and stayed. She was part of the "back to the land" movement, living in a cabin on the island of North Haven in Maine's Penobscot Bay.
She would eventually set up a small sheep farming operation to supply her yarn and knitting business. She currently owns the Nebo Lodge, a small inn and restaurant, which is run by one of her three daughters.
After holding local offices, Pingree was elected to the Maine state Senate in 1992, where she would eventually become majority leader before being term limited.
She ran unsuccessfully against Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2002 but came to Washington anyway to run Common Cause, a liberal-leaning campaign watchdog.
In 2008, when there was an open House seat representing Maine's 1st District, centered around the state's largest city, Portland, she emerged from a crowded Democratic primary and has held the seat with little trouble since.
Over her seven terms, Pingree may be best known as an advocate for sustainable farming and reducing food waste, something that draws on her experience as both a farmer and a restaurateur.
She's behind a 2014 farm bill provision to allow the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, at farmers markets. And she has long argued that sustainable and organic farming can help fight climate change.
Pingree has a strong lifetime rating, 97%, from the League of Conservation Voters and rarely has voted against legislation backed by greens. Although she's a liberal, Pingree tends to favor talking through policy options rather than launching partisan broadsides.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who was Maine's governor when Pingree led the state Senate, called her a "terrific" fit for a panel focused on environmental funding.
"She grew up in the environmental movement; she is a strong advocate," he said.