Muckraker: Grist on Politics

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Blue Green Alliance today hosted a meeting with several newly elected Democratic members of the House, welcoming the “next generation of green leaders.”

The four new members the groups touted come to the House with experience working on green issues in their home states: Debbie Halvorson (Ill.), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Tom Perriello (Va.), and Mark Schauer (Mich.). At the presser, each spoke about likely committee assignments and goals for the first year in Congress.

Perriello has a background in environmental and human rights issues, and previously served as the assistant director of the Center for a Sustainable Economy (which is now part of Redefining Progress) and as a consultant on youth and environmental campaigns. This summer, he could be seen campaigning on a float pulled by a biofuel-powered tractor, as his opponent cruised by in a Hummer. Perriello, who has been assigned to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the economic crisis should fuel the desire for an overhaul of the energy system.

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“Now is the time to look for game changers. We have to get people to work right away but we have to get them to work on things that are going to make America competitive again,” Perriello told Grist. “We are getting out-competed, and we are being made incredibly vulnerable by our energy dependence.”

“Now is the time to put people back to work on things like our energy infrastructure,” he continued. “Whether that’s a smart electric grid or green transit and infrastructure or workforce development, particularly in green energy sectors, these are the kinds of things that can create good, living wage jobs, and make our country safer.”

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Ohio’s Driehaus, who represents Cincinnati and once served in the Peace Corps in Senegal working on sustainable development issues, also pledged to fight for green infrastructure. “I think it’s fair to say that the last election was not about business as usual. I think people want to see things done differently,” said Driehaus. He said he has a particular interest in working on upgrading transportation and energy efficiency in cities, especially older, industrial places like his home district. Driehaus, who served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2001 until his election to the U.S. House, worked at the state level to enact renewable portfolio standard. He has been assigned to the Financial Services Committee.

Halvorson previously served as the Democratic majority leader in the Illinois state Senate, where she worked on sustainable agriculture and energy issues. She has been asked to serve on the House Agriculture Committee. Today, she said she plans to work for green infrastructure investments. “There’s no better way to help American families than to invest in infrastructure, but we have to do it right,” said Halvorson. “We can’t do it by reinventing a wheel that doesn’t work right. We can build a new American economy, and we can do it right.”

Michigan’s Schauer said his district has lost “tens of thousands” of jobs in the past year, which has made it even more clear how much an economic stimulus plan that creates long-term jobs is needed. He said he plans to work on green transportation issues, like commuter rail, high speed rail, and helping the auto industry – key in his state – to retool. “The economic crisis and the environmental crisis are inextricably linked,” said Schauer. “This is an historic opportunity.” Schauer, who defeated incumbent environmental-foe Tim Walberg (R) for the seat, has also been assigned to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Asked what they know about their opportunities to get greener programs funded through the stimulus plans, the freshmen said they weren’t able to offer much information at this point. “We’re not privy to all the components at this point, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” said Driehaus.