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Buttigieg puts greenhouse gas reduction at center of Biden transportation policy

Pete Buttigieg answers questions during his confirmation hearing as secretary of transportation on Jan. 21, 2021. Source: Screenshot/CSPAN

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg offered an unapologetic defense of President Joe Biden’s vision for improved transportation and greenhouse gas reductions during a Senate hearing to consider Buttigieg’s nomination for U.S. transportation secretary last Thursday.

“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this,” Buttigieg said.

The former Democratic presidential nominee largely enjoyed broad support from the members of both parties on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

But Republicans from Florida and Texas challenged him on the new administration’s “Green New Deal” proposals, and several senators peppered Buttigieg with questions about local initiatives or problems in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Tennessee, ranging from self-driving vehicles to bridge maintenance.

He said there was “bipartisan appetite for a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure.”

Cost of climate plans

Buttigieg’s nomination comes at a time when the incoming administration is looking to find areas of bipartisan cooperation. Such efforts could reinforce Biden’s calls to unite as a country.

But they also could help Biden’s agenda move through Congress, where Democrats have a narrow majority in the U.S. House and the Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties.

An infrastructure package could fit that bill, especially because Congress has less than a year before it must pass a new spending plan for some of the most prominent transportation concerns, including funding for transit and highways.

Still, Buttigieg, who frequently appeared on Fox News to promote Biden’s candidacy, sparred with Republican senators at the hearing over the cost of Biden’s climate plans and their potential impact on the economy.

Biden wants to spend $32 billion in the short term to help financially beleaguered transit agencies, install half a million charging stations for electric vehicles across the country, and increase fuel economy standards for new vehicles.

The transportation nominee told skeptical GOP lawmakers that the country could reduce carbon dioxide pollution while still sustaining a healthy economy.

“Ultimately, we cannot afford not to act on climate,” Buttigieg told U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who questioned Buttigieg about his support for the “Green New Deal.” “The question becomes: How can we do that in a way that creates economic benefit in the near term, as well as preventing catastrophe in the long term?” Read more

Buttigieg to inherit a crumbling network of roads, subways and rails at DOT