In August, we had a historic victory on bipartisan legislation to preserve and protect some of the most beautiful places in America. For years, our national parks and other public lands have had a growing problem – a huge backlog of maintenance projects that could not be addressed in the annual funding bills. In Ohio alone, there are over $100 million in needed repairs to visitors centers, trails, bridges, roads, scenic railways and even Lake Erie seawalls.
My Restore Our Parks Act, now law, provides this needed funding to address these unmet maintenance needs to protect our most treasured sites and landscapes or future generations. Places like Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the 13th most-visited park in America, will now be able to repair its crumbling infrastructure while creating thousands of new, good-paying jobs.
But there’s much more we can do to both help our environment and create jobs. In the Senate, I’m working on bipartisan legislation to protect forestland both at home and abroad, improve our nation’s recycling system, and promote energy efficiency.
Forestlands help sequester greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In the U.S., our national forests have been impacted by wildfires, droughts, pests and diseases. This summer’s forest fires have made things worse.
The U.S. Forest Service estimates a backlog of 1.3 million acres in need of reforestation. That is why I recently introduced the bipartisan REPLANT Act with Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, to expand funding for federal reforestation efforts.
Over the next decade, it’s estimated this legislation would help plant 4.1 million acres, or 1.23 billion trees, and create nearly 49,000 jobs. I’m encouraged that this legislation has bipartisan support and is also backed by the Trump administration.
As co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus, I have also taken the lead in protecting tropical forests abroad. Deforestation is a top contributor of CO2 worldwide. More than two decades ago, I authored the Tropical Forest Conservation Act to allow countries in debt to the United States to have that debt forgiven in exchange for protecting their biodiverse tropical forests.
To date, this law has protected nearly 67 million acres of tropical forest in 14 countries, including Brazil and Indonesia. This has removed up to 56 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, taking the equivalent of 11.8 million cars off the road without costing a single American job or having any substantial cost to U.S. taxpayers. Last year, I worked to reauthorize and expand this important law to include vulnerable coral reef ecosystems.
I am also working to promote more and better recycling. When done correctly, recycling reduces the amount of material sent to landfills, reduces emissions and creates jobs. Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the recycling rate in the U.S. is only 35.2 percent and that $9 billion worth of recyclable materials are thrown away each year in part due to improper recycling.
My bipartisan RECYCLE Act with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, will create a new federal grant program to help educate people in order to improve our recycling stream.
Elsewhere, I am fighting for market-based solutions to promote energy efficiency. One of the best ways to reduce pollution and CO2 emissions is to use less energy. My bipartisan legislation with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, will help improve energy efficiency in three key sectors – the federal government, manufacturing, and new buildings.
A study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy estimates that, by 2050, this bill will have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 1.3 billion tons and saved Americans $51 billion on their energy bills while creating more than 100,000 jobs. Our bill has already passed the Senate once, and it may be poised for enactment before the end of the year.
In addition, I have led efforts in Congress to promote carbon capture technology, which will help address greenhouse gases. I’m continuing to push my bill with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, that would allow businesses to use private activity bonds to finance a carbon capture project.
The Senate Great Lakes Task Force, which I co-chair, has successfully fought for policies to protect our Great Lakes. Chief among these is the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which represents the largest single investment in the Great Lakes’ health, ecosystem, and water quality.
Since 2010, Congress has provided nearly $2.7 billion to fund 5,441 GLRI restoration and conservation projects. We secured $320 million for this important program this year, and I have introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the GLRI as well. Just recently, I also introduced new bipartisan legislation to increase the annual funding allotted to dredge and maintain the Great Lakes Navigation System to ensure our lakes are safe for travel.
Most Ohioans agree that we should protect our environment in a way that creates more prosperity for everyone. Our legislative initiatives outlined above allow America to be a leader in the fight against climate change while still creating jobs and growth. That’s the focus of a bipartisan group I belong to called the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. I will continue to fight in Washington for effective measures to protect our environment and our economy.
Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is a U.S. senator
Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is a U.S. senator