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‘It will be big’: Coons hopeful for climate solutions in reconciliation bill

Courtesy of the office of Sen. Chris Coons

How well low-lying Delaware handles the growing impacts of climate change may be determined in part by spending packages before Congress now. 

The bipartisan infrastructure billbeing finalized in the Senate contains billions for climate resilience. 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) says this could mean funding for federal and state agencies as well as nonprofits proactively dealing with climate impacts. 

“Whether that’s improving forest land management to reduce the number of wildfires, or it's proactively managing wetlands and marshes—which would be more relevant for Delaware—this is making investments that would pay off in the short term and the long term," he said in an interview Tuesday.

But it’s thereconciliation billDemocrats plan to pass without Republican support that’s expected to contain more ambitious climate efforts. 

President Biden committed the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 under the Paris Agreement. And scientists say the world needs to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050 in order to avoid some of the most disastrous impacts of climate change. 

One way the White House has proposed getting part of the way there is a Clean Energy Standard—which would require utilities to get a certain amount of their electricity from zero-emission sources. Democrats including Coons support including it in the reconciliation bill. 

Coons also wants to see a “polluter import fee.” 

“For example — things that are imported from other countries that are carbon-intensive—like steel or cement from China— would face an import fee, or a tariff, to incentivize less CO2 production overseas. The United States has fairly strong regulations about CO2 emissions. Countries that manufacture things that don’t meet similar standards shouldn’t be able to free ride into our country.”

Coons is also pushing for funding for a Civilian Climate Corps through AmeriCorps.

“They would do things like managing our state forests,” he said. “Maintaining parks and public lands. Working with The Nature Conservancy or Delaware Wild Lands on improving the land management and preparation for coming climate change.”

Progressive Democrats like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) want a version of a Civilian Climate Corps that would require participants be recruited from and placed in environmental justice communities. 

Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) has been among the lawmakers standing their ground during last-minute negotiations before the bipartisan deal goes to a vote. E&E News reported last week Carper refusedto break the traditional funding formula for public transportation, which some Republicans want to do. He also threatened to withhold support for the bipartisan bill over a funding shortfall for water infrastructure. 

Coons told E&E Friday he would support the bipartisan package even without public transportation funding, because he sees the reconciliation bill as another opportunity to secure it. 

Coons says he hopes the reconciliation bill will not be the last chance for Congress to fund vital emissions reductions. 

“But it is certainly the best chance,” Coons said. “This bill is our one chance this fiscal year—and it will be bold. It will be big. And my hope is that it will do things that ultimately earn bipartisan support.”


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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