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Environmental policy leadership changing hands

By Mike Smith | Staff Reporter

Environmental policy of critical importance to the region — including measures on sea level rise, coastal flooding, beach nourishment and replenishment — are among the legislative items moving quickly on Capitol Hill.

With the planned retirement of U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the powerful Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, the baton is passing to U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and to U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (both, D-Del.) to finish the race. Blunt Rochester this week declared her candidacy for the Senate seat that Carper is vacating.

This week alone, a bill supported by the delegation of Carper, Coons and Blunt Rochester, to improve “clean” transit buses in the DART system, brought $8.7 million in Infrastructure Act funding back to Delaware and Sussex County. Carper also announced more than $595,000 in Clean Water Grants with EPA Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz and DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin at a local event.

EPA Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz said, “From the beaches to the bay, we have a responsibility in everything we do to address climate change, protect public health and ensure all communities have access to safe infrastructure.”

Capitol Hill visits by grassroots environmental organizations and conservation non-profits are a democratic means of communicating a “green” agenda to the representatives. In May, Delaware’s Interfaith Power & Light (Del IPL) met with Coons’ and Blunt Rochester’s offices to talk about clean energy, including offshore wind, and care for creation in this coastal community.

“Climate change is a moral issue,” said Blunt Rochester to the national and Delaware IPL representatives. “I want to thank our congregations and faith communities for being great stewards of our land and water.”

Nathan Robinson is Blunt Rochester’s legislative assistant charged with handling the Congresswoman’s energy and environmental protection portfolio. After she left for a key vote, Robinson continued meeting with Aaron Sharp, executive director of Del IPL and the Rev. Jeanne Boardman, regional director for southern Delaware of the non-profit, which is active in offshore wind policy.

“The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a step in the right direction,” said Robinson, confirming the faith community’s request for the delegation to support RAWA.

Boardman noted that birds and habitat are vital to the southern Delaware community and that 3 million species have faced extinction.

Of the biogas industry and recovering poultry waste, Robinson said, “We need to figure out poultry waste and other biofuels, but it should be done with more community engagement, jobs and education for people in the region. We should also be mindful of any language issues,” he said about carbon-reduction policies.

“Let’s get on the same page and create unity,” he said. “Permitting reform is a hot issue right now for energy developers. We cannot skip this step,” said Robinson of local engagement.

“The federal government overall needs to do a better job of engaging our faith communities,” said the legislative assistant. “The churches are a central place with a trusted voice. So, we must make our policy more transparent to everyone.”

Robinson added that Blunt Rochester serves on the regional council for Inflation Reduction Act implementation, CHIPS legislation and Infrastructure Act funding, which is bringing public-works projects to southern Delaware, including DART bus upgrades.

“We are here to help our Delaware communities access these federal funds,” noted Robinson. “You are talking to a friend when you meet with Rep. Blunt Rochester. We need to meet our renewable energy goals, and we are moving forward with the Farm Bill, permitting reform and creating food for our families in Delaware.”

Chris Avila is the legislative aide for energy, environment, science and technology for Coons. He met with the Del IPL leadership, including Sharp and Boardman, last month to talk about current legislative work in the Senate.

On the RAWA bill, Coons served as a co-sponsor, and the bill has been reviewed by Senate Environment & Public Works. Presently, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico is the lead sponsor of the wildlife protection and recovery bill.

“We are quite close to getting it done,” said Avila of RAWA. “Chris Coons speaks with Martin Heinrich very often about getting this conservation and protection enacted.”

RAWA would protect more than 12,000 species of plants and wildlife now in need of “conservation assistance,” according to the bill’s language.

“Protecting America’s fish and wildlife habitat means conserving the creatures we love before they ever become imperiled,” said Heinrich. “After all, our children deserve to inherit the full breadth of American wildlife, from bumblebees to bison, that we know today. This legislation will make that possible.”

Avila added that Coons believes that the EPA and DNREC need to engage citizen groups even more in policy discussion and explaining the implications.

“We want the churches and community groups to be at the table,” said Avila. “We need to take into account what the community is saying,” said the legislative aide. He noted that the local Sussex County buffers act was a step in the right direction to ensure builders are meeting the code and protecting local waterways.

To prepare for the Interfaith Power & Light “Hill Day,” Naomi Edelson from the National Wildlife Federation joined the training session. State leaders including Sharp and Boardman were invited to roleplay how they would interact with Capitol Hill legislative staffers.

Read the article on CoastalPoint.com

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