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Rep. Chris Pappas: Conversations About Infrastructure Must Include Climate Change

Icy road in Hopkinton, N.H.
Rebebecca Lavoie / NHPR

New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas is serving on a House committee on transportation and infrastructure, and he says those are his priorities in this next term as Congressman.

NHPR's Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Pappas about the issues facing New Hampshire's infrastructure and transportation sectors.

Rick Ganley: I know that you held a series of talks on these issues across the state earlier this month. What did you hear from Granite Staters about what kind of progress they'd like to see in this?

Chris Pappas: Well, there are a lot of ideas out there, in part because there are a significant number of unmet needs around our state, and also ways that people have identified for us where some federal investment could help leverage some private investment, some state and local dollars to really create some jobs and move our economy forward. So when we talk about infrastructure, it has to be an inclusive conversation, not just about roads and bridges or even just our transportation infrastructure.

But the kind of investments that I'm calling for include additional support for broadband, especially for rural areas that are underserved by that service, which is so important for a variety of services that people are relying on. And in addition to that, making sure that we're dealing with our water infrastructure and emerging contaminants like PFAS. And beyond that, we're looking at renewable energy and really how to create the kind of future where we're lowering our carbon footprint, creating jobs and being responsible about addressing climate change.

So I think infrastructure is a conversation that can be unifying, can bring parties together in Washington. And if we see a big deal with a significant amount of investment, we can really help create a framework for economic success for our communities and our country moving forward. So I think this conversation is happening at the right time. After we pass a COVID relief bill in the coming weeks, I think the conversation will turn to recovery and how we get our economy up and running. And the best way we can do that, based on my conversations with stakeholders here, is by seeing a robust program of infrastructure investment.

Rick Ganley: Well, let me ask you about that, Congressman, because you do have this large COVID package, of course, on the table now. Republicans think it's much too big. Democrats may end up pushing it through on their own. Is there going to be bipartisan support for some kind of infrastructure bill following that? And I'm wondering about the battles ahead and whether or not there'll just be, you know, stagnation again on infrastructure. I mean, there's that long running joke that it's always, you know, infrastructure week in Washington after all.

Chris Pappas: Well, that's right, and that was a joke that came about over the last four years where the last administration tried to put a focus on this, but never really had the attention or the real buy in, I think, from leaders in Congress.

Rick Ganley: So how do you get that buy in now? How does that happen now?

Chris Pappas: Well, I think that, look, we're going to try to make sure we can build consensus around COVID relief. And I think there are a number of priorities that have generated that. I've worked with a Republican member, Brian Fitzpatrick from Pennsylvania, on state and local funding, which we hope will be included in the next bill. So I think we will see a bipartisan vote in the House next week on COVID relief, and we'll see how that process all comes together.

But we know we have a number of priorities on the table - things from climate, to immigration, to health care - and infrastructure is something that has long been a bipartisan priority in Washington. So I think the committees will get to work and we'll see where that conversation takes us. But if folks in Congress are listening to local leaders like I have over the last few years, they'll know that there are red list bridges that have to be addressed. There are water systems that need to be upgraded. There are communities that need to be connected to the Internet. And I just think that this is a conversation that can be unifying. And we hope that people will come to the table with good ideas to shape the package in an appropriate manner

Rick Ganley: Here in New Hampshire, as in plenty of other places around the country, climate change is a real issue. You've got rising seas on the coast. You've got inland flooding. How are you and this House committee thinking about how climate change affects infrastructure and transportation issues in the long run?

Chris Pappas: Well, a couple of things on that. In terms of transportation, our transportation sector is the largest emitter now of greenhouse gases outpacing the energy sector. So there is an ability to make investments in things like electric vehicle charging infrastructure. We know the automakers are going in that direction, but we really need a network nationwide to be able to facilitate that transition. So it should be about lowering our emissions, reducing our carbon footprint, but also looking at how we can rebuild, not just what exists today, but rebuild for the future.

We have to make sure that our culverts and bridges are resilient to the severe storms that we're seeing on an increasing basis, here in New Hampshire and around the country. There's been some good work that's been done by [University of New Hampshire] and others on mapping our shoreline. We should be investing in that kind of mapping and planning to make sure that we're able to look over the horizon and know what's ahead to be able to plan. I've had conversations with our [Department of Transportation] Commissioner here in New Hampshire, Victoria Sheehan, and, you know, she supports making sure that we're including climate and resiliency in our planning and design work as we move forward. And I think that's a priority that we can include in the bill.

Rick Ganley: Do you find that there's more impetus in that, in the Biden administration, for those kinds of conversations?

Chris Pappas: Well, we actually had some good provisions come together on a bipartisan basis in the last Congress. Unfortunately, we just got a short term bill that wasn't able to provide the type of big investment we were looking for. So I think that will be the starting point. And there is bipartisan buy in, because members of both parties are seeing what's happening in their districts. Look at what is happening in Texas right now. Look at what's happening all across the country by changes in weather patterns, sea level rise and severe storms. And we've got to be prepared to make sure our infrastructure is resilient and that we're using the cleanest and greenest technologies and materials.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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