ICYMI: Axios: Sen. Padilla: Extreme Weather Events Can Change Political Discourse

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif) joined Axios ahead of U.N. Climate Week to discuss the opportunity and the urgency of incorporating bold climate action into the reconciliation process. The Senator reflected on his own history of climate leadership in California and how many of the key policies being proposed at the federal level to mitigate carbon emissions are inspired by similar efforts that were enacted in California.

Key Excerpts:

There’s been debate about the size of the investment in these infrastructure packages. Clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure package that has been approved by the Senate is significant, but nowhere near enough. And so we do have a part that we’ll achieve through, we’ve heard the term a lot these days, the budget reconciliation process.

We have to go big in our investments in infrastructure and if you’re not convinced that we need to tackle climate with urgency, look at what’s happened in recent weeks. Hurricanes impacting the Gulf Coast, Louisiana hit hard again, the flooding that it caused in the northeast New York, New Jersey, other areas. And of course, many parts of the West, including my home state of California suffered from yet another record setting wildfire season. And so with extreme weather patterns, the sustained drought in California and elsewhere, that should be all the evidence we need to go big on climate and we have such a unique opportunity at this time.

[…]

I served as chair of the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications, where at the time, for example, we used the Recovery Act dollars coming to California to help fund our California Conservation Corps for things like energy audits, and some of the energy efficiency projects. So it’s a great foundation to point to when I say here, and now, one of my big priorities is the Climate Conservation Corps that we’re trying to fund through the infrastructure packages, plural. We know we can tackle climate, we know that we can retrain workers or training younger workers in jobs for the future, as well, and frankly, help address not just economic justice issues, but economic justice issues because some folks that have been shut out of these investments in the past. 

Another area that we build on some of California’s experiences are our shift to renewable energy, including providing incentives for more solar, more wind, etc. So the clean energy tax credit that’s being negotiated, I think is an important key part. 

[…]

Several months ago, we’re referencing the recent hurricanes, the recent wildfires, but if we take ourselves back a few months, you remember the ice storms in Texas that shut down the grid and had other devastating impacts, not just on Texas but on Texans, specifically. So that I think created an opportunity for me to reach out to my colleague from Texas, Senator Cornyn, and on a bipartisan basis suggest that we put federal funding and federal resources at play to partner with utilities for the purpose of investing in the electrical grid, not just from a reliability standpoint, but from a resiliency standpoint. And while we’re modernizing the grid, we’re also making the grid more efficient, reducing emissions, having the environmental benefits of that.

For better and for worse, sometimes it does take natural disasters like this to maybe change the politics and the discourse a little bit. Our measure, which was first introduced as a standalone, POWER ON Act was so popular on both sides of the aisle, that it got absorbed into the bipartisan infrastructure package. The only change they made is they multiplied the amount of money we were asked for by five. And so, glad to see that it was approved by the Senate, can’t wait for it to get to the President’s desk for signature.

Read the full interview transcript below: 

Ben Geman, Axios: Our first guest is the Senator from California, Senator Alex Padilla, joining us from Los Angeles. Senator, thanks for being with us.

Senator Padilla: Good to see you, Ben, thank you for having me, obviously, a timely and important topic here.

Ben Geman, Axios: I 100% agree and I’d actually like to start with how you think the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the separate multi-trillion dollar legislation that Democrats are trying to move through the budget process will create green energy jobs going forward. And I’d also like to get a sense of what are your top priorities for these measures?

Senator Padilla: Sure, well look, there’s a lot to unpack there. But let me start with two things. Number one, reminding us all of not just the need to act, but the urgency with which we need to act on climate. There’s been debate about the size of the investment in these infrastructure packages. Clearly, the bipartisan infrastructure package that has been approved by the Senate is significant, but nowhere near enough. And so we do have a part that we’ll achieve through, we’ve heard the term a lot these days, the budget reconciliation process. We have to go big in our investments in infrastructure and if you’re not convinced that we need to tackle climate with urgency, look at what’s happened in recent weeks. Hurricanes impacting the Gulf Coast, Louisiana hit hard again, the flooding that it caused in the northeast New York, New Jersey, other areas. And of course, many parts of the West, including my home state of California suffered from yet another record setting wildfire season. And so with extreme weather patterns, the sustained drought in California and elsewhere, that should be all the evidence we need to go big on climate and we have such a unique opportunity at this time. In terms of some of the elements, the other point I wanted to make is looking at building on a lot of experience and proven policies that have played a role in the state of California, but also the state Senate. I served as chair of the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications, where at the time, for example, we used the Recovery Act dollars coming to California to help fund our California Conservation Corps for things like energy audits, and some of the energy efficiency projects. So it’s a great foundation to point to when I say here, and now, one of my big priorities is the Climate Conservation Corps that we’re trying to fund through the infrastructure packages, plural. We know we can tackle climate, we know that we can retrain workers or training younger workers in jobs for the future, as well, and frankly, help address not just economic justice issues, but economic justice issues because some folks that have been shut out of these investments in the past. Another area that we build on some of California’s experiences are our shift to renewable energy, including providing incentives for more solar, more wind, etc. So the clean energy tax credit that’s being negotiated, I think is an important key part. And finally, the clean tech accelerator that you’re hearing about. In California, I authored the manufacturing tax incentives that started with clean tech, and has been brought into other areas of advanced manufacturing, but we don’t want to just invest in renewable energy sources, but try to bring a lot of the investment and job creation opportunity here.

Ben Geman, Axios: You mentioned some of the extreme weather that, of course, has had a very dramatic and tragic toll on your state, but really nationwide, as you were walking me through, do you get a sense that some of these events that we’re seeing, be it the wildfires or the flooding, or other events, is that influencing the politics of this on Capitol Hill?

Senator Padilla: I do think it is and I give you what I point to as an exhibit A. Several months ago, we’re referencing the recent hurricanes, the recent wildfires, but if we take ourselves back a few months, you remember the ice storms in Texas that shut down the grid and had other devastating impacts, not just on Texas but on Texans, specifically. So that I think created an opportunity for me to reach out to my colleague from Texas, Senator Cornyn, and on a bipartisan basis suggest that we put federal funding and federal resources at play to partner with utilities for the purpose of investing in the electrical grid, not just from a reliability standpoint, but from a resiliency standpoint. And while we’re modernizing the grid, we’re also making the grid more efficient, reducing emissions, having the environmental benefits of that. And so, for better and for worse, sometimes it does take natural disasters like this to maybe change the politics and the discourse a little bit. Our measure, which was first introduced as a standalone, POWER ON Act was so popular on both sides of the aisle, that it got absorbed into the bipartisan infrastructure package. The only change they made is they multiplied the amount of money we were asked for by five. And so, glad to see that it was approved by the Senate, can’t wait for it to get to the President’s desk for signature.

Ben Geman, Axios: And, of course, that legislation, which obviously has bipartisan support is, however, on some level tethered to the plan that the Democrats, that your party, is trying to move through the through the budget process. I’m wondering, you know, you’re really trying to sort of thread the needle with that one because, of course, it requires you having every Senate Democrat on board. Are you optimistic that Senators Manchin and Sinema, who are perhaps the most high-profile Senators with some concerns about this measure — Do you think they can be sort of brought to yes, and have you had discussions with them that sort of lay out the case that you just offered to me?

Senator Padilla: Look, I do believe we’re going to get to yes, at the end of the day, and that end of the day is going to be in the weeks not the months ahead, because of the urgency that I’ve just laid out. I mean, the flooding that I spoke to maybe didn’t impact West Virginia, but there’s going to be other priority elements of the infrastructure package that my friend Senator Manchin is going to want to prioritize. I know Senator Sinema, representing Arizona, is also familiar with the wildfires and the increasing sheets. And for all of us having to look at the most recent report issued by the leading scientists on climate change, that it’s not just 25 years from now, and the potential impact of a 1.5 degree increase in average temperature. But again, the impact that we’re seeing, now we need to act with urgency. We need to act boldly. That’s half the equation. So, it’s okay to have questions on what the price tag is, but of equal importance is knowing that we’re doing this in a fiscally responsible way — making sure that multinational corporations and the wealthiest families in America are paying their fair share of taxes and recovering additional tax revenue for the state by increasing the capacity of the IRS to enforce existing tax laws. So, it’s not just deficit spending, deficit spending, deficit spending, for deficit spending’s sake. We know there’s a just, progressive, way to fund this. We know the need and the urgency with which we need to invest in our infrastructure and we haven’t even started talking, by the way, about childcare, housing, health care, education, and more.

Ben Geman, Axios: You mentioned sort of the emerging scientific information in the very recent report from the United Nations scientific panel, the United Nations is also convening this kind of critical, perhaps even make or break Global Climate Summit later on this fall. To what extent does the Biden administration need to walk into this summit with this legislation passed? I guess what I’m trying to say is, if the negotiations over this bill, go on and delay, and go on further and perhaps into the winter, do you think that’s going to affect the United States’ ability to bring other countries on board to sort of address what, of course, is a global emissions problem?

Senator Padilla: Yeah, I think it would be a huge boost to President Biden and the administration’s efforts to bring the rest of the world along. We can talk the talk, and I think he does have a lot of goodwill with leaders around the world, but it’s always so much more impactful when you’ve said to stop what we’re saying, but what we’re doing in the United States. I do think people look at President Biden, and say, there’s a new day. This is not the Trump administration anymore, but it’s one thing to walk the walk, and talk the talk. To walk the walk is to have Congress to have acted by them, so that we can demonstrate to our partners globally, that we’re walking the walk.

Ben Geman, Axios: And Senator staying in your home state of California, we just had the governor who appointed you to your, to your current seat, but of course you’ve had a long history in California politics and policy. He has just kind of beat back this effort to recall him. When people went to the polls for that recall, do you think that they had his climate change policies on their mind at all?

Senator Padilla: No doubt, no doubt. You turn on the news daily in California right now, especially in the northern half of the state, you’re still seeing the impacts of fires and smoke, people that were forced to evacuate, that sort of thing. And so, I think science was on the ballots in this recall election: science about COVID and the need for vaccines, and science about climate and the urgency with which we need to act to have defeated the recall with such a significant margin, I think, tells us Californians clearly know what’s going on.

Ben Geman, Axios: Well, I think we’re going to make that the last word. Senator Padilla, thank you so much for joining us today.

Senator Padilla: Thank you so much can’t wait for the next one. Thank you.

###

Share on print
Print
Share on email
Share
Share on facebook
Like
Share on twitter
Tweet