Congressional Victories, Continued
As I mentioned in my spring newsletter, it's rare that we hear good news come out of Washington D.C., where smart, bipartisan legislation is often thwarted by politics. But we've managed to break through the partisan logjam a few times already this year, and this month brought more good news: passage by the full House of Representatives of my bipartisan amendment to end a wasteful, dirty coal earmark; and the defeat of a "fast track" trade package that was flawed to begin with and got even worse as it moved through the House.
Read on for more information:
Ending an Earmark
For nearly 50 years, a congressional earmark has required the Department of Defense to purchase anthracite coal from Pennsylvania and ship it more than 3,000 miles to U.S. military bases in Kaiserslautern, Germany. This earmark costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year, a wasteful and shameful relic from long ago.
But on June 10, I offered a bipartisan amendment with Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) to finally remove this zombie earmark. I'm proud to report that the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved my amendment in a bipartisan vote.
Passage of this amendment shows that if we try, Republicans and Democrats can work together to cut wasteful spending while protecting the environment. My staff and I are continually looking for opportunities like this to reach across the aisle and get things done.
No "Fast Track" for flawed trade deal
That same week, the House voted on "fast track" Trade Promotion Authority, which would grease the skids not only for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but for any other trade deals negotiated by our presidents for the next six years. The TPP is the biggest proposed trade deal in at least the past 20 years. Especially with a deal this big, we must not repeat the mistakes of past trade deals like NAFTA which cost millions of American jobs and failed to deliver on lofty promises about protecting workers and the environment. Flawed trade deals have exacerbated income inequality, and have undermined laws protecting consumers and the environment by subjecting them to legal challenge before unaccountable trade tribunals.
As one of many examples, earlier this month the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the United States' "Country of Origin" labeling law for beef and pork is a violation of NAFTA, entitling Canada and Mexico to billions in trade sanctions on American products unless Congress repeals the meat labeling law. The proposed TPP presents even greater risks because, in addition to countries, private corporations could challenge our health, safety, consumer, and environmental laws as trade violations, creating economic and political pressure for their repeal and even putting the U.S. government on the hook for billions of dollars in damages.
Given the urgency of climate change and the fact that the TPP would lock in rules of commerce and energy development for nearly 40% of the world's economy with profound climate implications, I have pushed for inclusion of strong language that would ensure TPP advances efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and does not impede future climate deals or worsen our climate problems. Unfortunately, Republicans and fossil fuel interests succeeded in removing any reference to climate change from the draft TPP and prevent it and any future trade agreements from addressing climate change.
I cannot support fast-tracking a trade package that sidelines the United States from using our trade leverage to make progress on climate change, gives Malaysia a pass on human trafficking, gives Vietnam a pass on its atrocious treatment of workers, and allows the potential dismantling of bedrock laws like the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, the Clean Water Act, or California's world-leading Global Warming Solutions Act.
For all of these reasons, I oppose the proposed TPP trade package and joined more than 200 colleagues from both parties in voting "no" on Trade Promotion Authority. While the measure narrowly passed the House, the defeat of a related bill has stopped the TPP package for now. There will undoubtedly be further attempts to pass this package of bills this summer, so stay tuned.
Great News for Humboldt Bay
Finally, we got great news for Humboldt Bay recently and learned that our efforts to secure an Economic Development Assistance Grant to help redevelop the old Samoa pulp mill have been successful! The $155,000 grant will provide technical assistance to property owner Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District aimed at finding opportunities to reuse the mill's valuable infrastructure and strengthen the local economy.
The Samoa pulp mill was built in the 1960s and passed through several owners until it finally closed in 2010. Abandoned on site in inadequate storage tanks was approximately four million gallons of caustic pulping chemicals. The Harbor District acquired the site and worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the state to safely ship out the chemicals and dismantle the tanks. The Harbor District is now working with Humboldt County to attract waterfront dependent businesses to the reclaimed site.
I am optimistic that the pulp mill can be repurposed in a way that provides jobs and protects the environment. It's vital that the community find ways to take advantage of this important bay property.
Working on more good news
I won't always have good news to report out of Washington, but I'm pleased that we've overcome the usual partisan gridlock and scored some major wins in recent months. Speaking of wins, this month was one of the great, fun, bipartisan traditions of Congress: the 54th annual congressional baseball game! I played 3rd base for the Democrats and we notched our 7th straight win over our friendly rivals the Republicans, raising a record amount for Washington-area charities in the process.
Rest assured that I'll keep working to get things done on many issues of concern to our North Coast communities, and will keep you updated whether the news is good or bad. Thank you for the privilege of serving you in Congress.
Congressman Jared Huffman