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Lawmakers press for federal clean energy bill

The $550 billion climate infrastructure package was originally part of the Build Back Better bill, which remains stalled in the U.S. Senate.

MINNEAPOLIS — Clean energy advocates say the United States needs to move faster towards a green economy, one that can salvage the planet while creating jobs and a more equitable society at the same time.

They assert the proposed $550 billion climate infrastructure bill currently stalled in the U.S. Senate would achieve many of the goals of helping businesses and families move away from fossil fuels and reduce their carbon output.

"The transition to a clean energy future will create millions of good-paying jobs. It will improve our health. It will make our economy more productive and more fair," Senator Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat, told reporters in an online news conference Wednesday.

"We know the clean energy future is going to happen. The question is whether we lead or whether we follow. I think we should lead."

At least $311 million in the bill would go to tax credits that help the energy industry and consumers afford to make the switch to clean sources.  For example, the legislation contains higher subsidies for purchasing electric vehicles and money to help build EV charging stations.

"Transportation is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions, so any strategy to address the climate emergency must include bold and aggressive investments in our electric vehicle infrastructure," Rep. Frank Hornstein, the Minneapolis Democrat who chairs the Minnesota House Transportation Committee, remarked.

He noted that MNDOT is working on a major buildout of charging station infrastructure as more car buyers switch to hybrids and plug-in electric cars.

The climate infrastructure bill was originally part of the Build Back Better bill that passed the U.S. House in November, but it was among the elements excluded from the pared down version that passed as the Infrastructure and Jobs Act.

Republicans have opposed it because of the price tag. Some GOP lawmakers have also said they're not comfortable with provisions that require the work be done by union members or people making the prevailing union wages in that region.

"We need a recovery for America, by America, that addresses the intersecting crises of climate change and income inequality, racial injustice and doing all of that while creating high-paying jobs," said Richard Diaz, a field organizer with the BlueGreen Alliance, the organization that organized Wednesday's event.

The group has fostered connections between environmental groups and the trade unions that will be involved in the production of green energy equipment and more efficient consumer goods.

Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said he's grateful that Sen. Smith is supporting the climate infrastructure bill.  He noted his city is already taking steps to bring about energy equity, so that lower income residents aren't left behind.

The Capital City now has a Climate Justice Advisory Board and has launched the EV Spot electric car-sharing program, which is also underway in Minneapolis.

"Expanding clean energy opportunities like our EV program will make affordable for the middle class and working families by lowering electricity bills, saving people money at the gas pump and saving people heating and cooling costs."

Smith and others in the press conference say as a society we can't wait for natural market forces to produce the rapid changes that are needed. They assert the government has an important role to play in the transition to a cleaner, greener nation.

They also argue that taxpayers and consumers are already footing the rising costs of warming temperatures and severe weather events, such as droughts and flooding events that appear to be linked to warming air and ocean temperatures.

"A lot of people look at the price tag and look at how expensive this bill is, but the fact is we're going to save a lot more than what we spend," Sen. Kent Eken, an Audubon Democrat, explained.

"We really can't afford NOT to do this."

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