February 26, 2019

Chairman DeFazio Statement from Hearing on, “Examining How Federal Infrastructure Policy Could Help Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change”

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery by Committee Vice Chair Salud Carbajal, on behalf of Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled: “Examining How Federal Infrastructure Policy Could Help Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change.” Chairman DeFazio was unable to attend today’s hearing due to a snowstorm in Oregon.


Welcome. Unfortunately, due to an unusually heavy snowstorm in Oregon, the Chairman remains stuck there and is unable attend today’s hearing. This is the latest evidence that climate change increases extreme weather events and those events negatively affect our transportation system.  I will deliver the following remarks on behalf of the Chairman.

Today we bring the full committee together for our second hearing of the year, to examine how Federal infrastructure policy could help mitigate and adapt to climate change. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has traditionally worked in a bipartisan manner - we don’t always agree, but we do always strive to find a common ground. Today, we tackle a topic that has divided Congress for a long time. I urge every Member of this Committee to approach today’s hearing with an open mind and a willingness to listen and learn, and to respectfully engage with each other and today’s panel.

The transportation sector is now the largest contributor to global warming in the U.S. Within the transportation sector, passenger and freight vehicles contribute 83 percent of global warming emissions. I intend to respond appropriately to this challenge as we move legislation and direct investment to transportation activities this Congress.

I suspect many members on both sides of the aisle will want to spar over the Green New Deal. While proponents tout it as critical to avoiding a climate crisis, others have called it a plan that will undermine our economy and way of life. It is difficult to reconcile these two portrayals, but that is not what we are here to do today.

If you want to debate the underlying arguments or ideas of the Green New Deal, this is not the venue. The authors of the Green New Deal set an ambitious goal, one which I support, but their plan encompasses issues far beyond the jurisdiction of this committee, in fact it was referred to eleven committees, and the resolution provides no details. Rather than debate this resolution, our job to is find pragmatic approaches to addresses the challenges of our changing climate.

I believe our best chance of mitigating further damage and creating sustainable, resilient infrastructure is to look for areas of common ground. Many would be surprised to learn that my district is not so different from the Ranking Member’s district. His district is the 40th largest district in the nation at 18,198 square miles. My district is the 41st largest district in the nation at 17,274 square miles.

We both have populous areas, the Ranking Member has the northern suburbs of Kansas City, while I have two university towns. Moreover, we both have large rural constituencies who make an honest living - in agriculture in Mr. Graves’ district - and timber, fishing, and agriculture in my district.

Ranking Member Graves and I represent similar people, facing similar struggles, and worrying about similar things, some in rural areas and some in more urban areas. We owe it to our constituents to be pragmatic, thoughtful, and deliberate.

Also on this committee are members with vastly different districts. Mr. Espaillat’s district, parts of Manhattan and the Bronx, is so small and dense that one can stroll from one side of the district to the other with a leisurely walk. On the other side of the spectrum, it takes a lengthy plane ride to get across Mr. Young's vast district.

Today, I want the witnesses to offer pragmatic, yet effective, solutions to climate change that reflect these differences and that will inform the committee’s efforts to mitigate carbon emissions and provide for resilient infrastructure in disparate districts.

Despite the differences among Member districts, our constituents rely on airports, bridges, drinking water, highways, ports, public buildings, rail, transit, tunnels, and wastewater systems. Protecting critical infrastructure unites us, and is firmly within this Committee’s jurisdiction. I want to be proactive, working with all Members to address this challenge.

I would also ask that Members give thoughtful consideration to the options presented today, and look for areas of future opportunity. For example, many of today's witnesses will support electrification of passenger and freight vehicles because of the overwhelming contribution to global warming emissions by today’s fleets.

Some members may be tempted to blast away at this idea, raising concerns about the economic consequences. Before they do, they should know that over four-fifths of battery electric vehicles and nearly two-thirds of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are assembled in the United States. I think we can all agree we should support more domestic manufacturing.

So let's get down to business. If you want to do the hard, messy work of legislating to reduce carbon emissions from transportation and build resilient infrastructure in an effort to tackle global warming, I look forward to working with you. I welcome our witnesses who are here to inform us of pragmatic, but effective, strategies this committee can take.