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Debbie Mucarsel-Powell: Green projects a must in infrastructure package

“We’re ground-zero for climate change.”

As the House begins outlining a proposed infrastructure deal with President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell says that in addition to fixing broken infrastructure, lawmakers should be looking to the future as well.

“How do we build resilient infrastructure, but also infrastructure that is going to have long-term benefits for our environment?”

Mucarsel-Powell spoke with Florida Politics following reports House leaders and President Trump have started work on a potential $2 trillion infrastructure package.

But the congresswoman from Florida’s 26th Congressional District says she doesn’t plan to wait for that arrangement to be finalized. Mucarsel-Powell has pushed for environmentally-focused projects in the past, such as the Everglades Restoration Project. The congresswoman says on Wednesday, she will also file a new bill called the Water Infrastructure, Sustainability, and Efficiency (WISE) Act.

The focus of that legislation is the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). That fund sends money to the states, which are then free to disburse the cash to local governments to help with water quality projects.

The WISE Act would ensure that 20 percent of those annual funds would be used for “green infrastructure, water and energy efficiency, or other environmentally innovative activities,” according to a summary of the proposal.

“We’re ground-zero for climate change,” Mucarsel-Powell said of her district.

“And the more I talked to different stakeholders, the more I realized we are not doing much of anything to invest on the appropriate infrastructure projects that we need to.”

Mucarsel-Powell says while the WISE Act will be a start in addressing those concerns, more will need to be done.

Some of that additional work could come as the infrastructure package evolves. While congressional Democrats and President Trump have routinely battled publicly over a range of issues, Mucarsel-Powell points to Trump’s numerous comments in support of revamping the nation’s infrastructure as a sign a deal can still get done.

“I am optimistic,” Mucarsel-Powell said of a potential agreement.

“[Transportation and Infrastructure] Chairman [Peter] DeFazio told me yesterday that the President was very positive. It seems like he’s extremely interested in doing this. And look, we have to work with the administration. It doesn’t matter what our policy differences are on other issues.”

Mucarsel-Powell listed several of the needs of her district such as rainwater harvesting, encouraging investment on green roofs, and focusing on energy-efficient transportation projects. One topic near the top of her list is getting rid of septic tanks where possible in the county and moving to sewer systems.

“We still have about 90,000 septic tanks in Miami-Dade County alone and we have to tackle that as soon as possible,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

“We have leaky septic tanks that with that runoff are threatening the quality of our water in South Florida.”

The septic tank issue has been raised before at both the state and federal level when discussing issues of the state’s water quality, including contribution to algae blooms.

Should a federal infrastructure package crystallize further, Mucarsel-Powell says she plans on holding discussions with localities to identify high-priority projects.

And while Mucarsel-Powell argues the projects would more than pay for themselves in the long-run, she conceded that an already-pricey infrastructure package could get even more expensive, at least in the short term, with a focus on green projects.

The congresswoman floated a potential 80/20 split between federal money and local money to help encourage those projects and said tax incentives to local municipalities or consumers to boost green projects would also be an option.

But with negotiations ongoing, a lot of work is yet to be done to figure out how those green goals will be funded. What Mucarsel-Powell says she wants to avoid is shoving too much of those costs onto residents who’ve been left behind when it comes to infrastructure upgrades.

“We have to be very careful that we don’t let the everyday, hardworking American absorb these costs,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

“You have people that are living in West Kendall or South Dade and they have to drive an hour and a half to get to work because they can’t afford to live close to their job. So we have to be careful that we don’t transfer the costs of these projects, because the government has really been neglectful of investing in the right infrastructure.”

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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