ITHACA, N.Y. — Environmental legislation was on the agenda in both Washington and Albany last week with the recent Earth Day holiday. Democrats in the House passed a bill to try and keep the U.S. in the Paris Climate Accord while New York State Democrats passed a constitutional protection of clean water. Republicans in both legislatures weren’t big fans.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

The House returned to session last week with the agenda set on the climate change. Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed legislation that would keep the United States in the Paris Climate Accord — which mandates the U.S. reduce emissions 25 percent relative to 2005 levels.

Ultimately, Rep. Reed voted against the Climate Action Now Act which passed the House, but isn’t likely to make it through the Senate. Three Republicans defected from Democrats in what was otherwise a party-line vote.

Reed did, however, side with Democrats in some amendments to the legislation, which dominated most of the House’s floor time last week. Here’s a summary of some of the highlights:

  • Treaty Designation– An amendment offered by Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar would have designated the Paris Climate Accord as a treaty. This would then require that whatever plan the president devise be subject to a two-thirds vote in the Senate in order to be ratified. Since Republicans already hold a firm majority in the chamber, this amendment would effectively kill any hopes of retaining the Paris Climate Accord. Reed was one of 189 Republicans who voted for this amendment. Only five Republicans defected, and all Democrats voted against it, thus failing the amendment.
  • Clean Energy– This amendment acknowledges the important of renewable energy resources in mitigating climate change and meeting the goals of the Paris Accord. Reed was one of 31 Republicans to vote in favor of this amendment, which passed.
  • American Jobs and New Technologies– This amendment was proposed by New York Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel. It makes note that whatever plan the President would theoretically develop in accordance with the Paris Accord, should take into account U.S. technology development, jobs and other domestic industries. Reed was one of 29 Republicans to vote in favor of the amendment which passed.
  • Motion to Recommit– This is procedural tool being used heavily by Republicans during this session to try and get vulnerable Democrats to break party ranks and tank a bill. The motion to recommit on the Climate Action Now Act would have prevented the bill’s implementation until President Trump agreed doing so would not impact the United States’ ability to compete economically with China. Rep. Reed voted in favor of the motion, which ultimately failed.

Here’s a full list of amendments and the bill’s text.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (125th Assembly District)

The New York Legislature also made moves on environmental legislation in its first week back since the two-week recess. These measures included an amendment to the state’s constitution to protect access to clean water and bill to designate areas that are at-risk for environmental hazards.

Barbara Lifton

Assemblywoman Lifton was a cosponsor on many of those bills and was glad to see them pass in commemoration of Earth Day. However, Lifton said she was disappointed to learn this is most likely the last environmental package the governor will push through the Legislature this year.

“I was surprised and disappointed to hear the Governor say that he has no environmental items on his agenda for this end-of-session period; that’s certainly not our position in the Assembly,” Lifton wrote in an email to constituents last week.

She pointed out specifically that she wants the legislature to pass a bill she cosponsors that would develop a statewide Climate Action Plan to limit greenhouse emissions and promote environmentally friendly labor practices.

Senator Tom O’Mara (58th Senate District)

Sen. Tom O’Mara, former Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee voted against the bill to add wording to protect water in the state’s constitution.

Legislators including O’Mara rallied in the capitol last week alongside student journalists who were advocating for a bill that would protect student-run news outlets from editorial control by school administrators. O’Mara currently sponsors the bipartisan bill in the Senate.

“The role and the responsibility of a free press in American democracy is one of the most timely and serious examinations taking place in our society today,” O’Mara wrote in a press release last week with Corning Republican Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. “We remain hopeful that the introduction of this legislation will help contribute to the discussion and, especially for aspiring journalists and their instructors and mentors, help heighten their appreciation and understanding of the First Amendment, the working press, and the protection and preservation of this ideal moving forward into the 21st century.”

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer & U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called out U.S. military leaders after a newly released Pentagon report found increased rates of sexual assault prevalent in the nation’s armed forces.

“I am tired of excuses. I am tired of statements from commanders that say ‘zero tolerance.’ I am tired of the statement I get over and over from the chain of command: ‘We got this, ma’am. We got this.’ You don’t have it. You’re failing us,” Gillibrand said during the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The anonymous survey conducted by the Department of Defense shows the number of women reporting sexual assault increased 50 percent from 2016 to 2018.

The Senate plugged away at President Trump’s nominees for lower-level cabinet officials and district court judges. Gillibrand voted against all the nominees, but Sen. Chuck Schumer voted in favor of the President’s nominees for district court judge for Puerto Rico, Assistant Secretary of State and Director of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The Senate also failed to override President Trump’s veto of legislation that would have removed the U.S. from supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Both Gillibrand and Schumer voted to override the veto which fell 13 votes short of the required 66 to buck the President.

More Capitol Watch:

Featured image: Rep. Tom Reed addresses students at Ithaca College. (Vaughn Golden/The Ithaca Voice)

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...