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Rep. Doris Matsui: The Importance of Planting Trees

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"Rep. Doris Matsui: The Importance of Planting Trees"

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Our guest blogger is Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA).

During the markup of the Waxman-Markey clean energy economy legislation (H.R. 2454) on Wednesday, I offered an amendment to improve energy efficiency by encouraging the planting of shade trees to fight global warming, save electricity, and clean the air. My amendment was challenged by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who mentioned that her mother, a long-time garden club member, “received the Keep America Beautiful lifetime achievement award in 1997 for the work that she has done.” The gentlelady from Tennessee asked me whether my program would hurt not-for-profit organizations in the name of fighting global warming:

So, in addition to the U.S. Forest Service carrying out some of this good work, we have garden clubs all around the country. We have Boy Scout and Girl Scout clubs that work on Arbor Days, planting trees. So is it the gentlelady’s intent that all of these organizations will be able to draw down this one-dollar-for-dollar match? Would they use that to grow their programs or would this have the unintended consequence of doing away with the corporate contributions that they receive, the charitable contributions they receive in order to help carry out those programs?

Watch it:

In reality, my amendment establishes a competitive matching grant program for retail power providers to support new and existing tree-planting programs by non-profit organizations — like garden clubs, the Boy Scouts, and Keep America Beautiful. Matching grant programs, which require that federal monies be matched dollar-for-dollar by private donations, actually encourage charitable corporate contributions. I expressed to my colleagues that Congress should set standards for the utilities to ensure the money is well spent and energy efficiency is prioritized.

Rep. Blackburn further argued that this amendment would start “diminishing the work they have done while we say global warming and fighting global warming and paying umbrage to global warming is the objective of the legislation we’re bringing forward.” Fighting what the Garden Club of America calls the “serious reality of global warming” requires everyone to work together – from members of Congress to members of 4-H. Which is why the Garden Club supports “federal, state and local legislation as well as individual initiatives to control greenhouse gases,” and why I offered this amendment.

I believe my fellow California Democrat, committee chair Henry Waxman put it best when he explained to Rep. Blackburn:

I would be interested in whether you think that faith-based initiatives have harmed the religious and volunteer groups that were doing great things in the community, running drug abuse programs, and other things that — where they served a very worthwhile purpose and the government wanted them — to have them do the work and that set of government agencies to do it. So I show you a different aspect of it. I hear what you’re saying and I wouldn’t want those nonprofit groups to be pushed out of the way at all. But I think this would expand it. We would have more opportunities for people to do things together.

The legislation we passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee Thursday night is an achievement for the American people, our planet, and for future generations. Once this legislation is signed into law, our children and grandchildren will live in a country that is more sustainable, more economically viable, and more efficient than the country we live in today. And for my hometown of Sacramento, this bill is more than an achievement; it is a necessity.

I’m proud to support President Obama’s challenge to all Americans to work together to repower America and save our planet. Big problems require big solutions, but this one can start with the simple planting of additional trees in our communities.

Transcript:

BLACKBURN: I do have a couple of questions I would like to ask Miss Matsui, if I may do so, on her amendment. I find the amendment such an interesting take on — um — and I do — do look at this and see it as being very duplicative and redundant in its efforts. You know, I come from a family that has always participated enormously in conservation efforts, whether it was Farm Bureau 4-H Club or my mother with Garden Clubs of America. My mother received the Keep America Beautiful lifetime achievement award in 1997 for the work that she has done, starting programs like the gentlelady from California is mentioning in her bill. Now, we have wonderful not-for-profits that go about this work and she does reference them in her bill.

But these organizations, for decades have been planting trees. So, in addition to the U.S. Forest Service carrying out some of this good work, we have garden clubs all around the country. We have Boy Scout and Girl Scout clubs that work on Arbor Days, planting trees. So is it the gentlelady’s intent that all of these organizations will be able to draw down this one-dollar-for-dollar match. Would they use that to grow their programs or would this have the unintended consequence of doing away with the corporate contributions that they receive, the charitable contributions they receive in order to help carry out those programs? Have we thought through what that would do to these not-for-profits who have for decades been engaged in this type of work? And I yield to the gentlelady for a response.

MATSUI: Yes, I’d like to respond. first of all, I really appreciate garden clubs also. And I think they really fill a wonderful place in our communities. The critical difference between my amendment and things like garden clubs, and the reason we need the amendment, is because utilities need to plant the right tree in the right place in order to get the kind of —

BLACKBURN: Reclaiming my time. So then the individuals that put a lot of work into these efforts, our assumption, the arrogance of an assumption by us in Congress would be that these volunteers do not plant the trees in the right place. And I just would have a tremendous amount of concern about what this would do to these organizations that put effort into carrying forth these programs, even begin these programs.

WAXMAN: Would the gentlelady yield?

BLACKBURN: Yes, I’ll be happy to yield.

WAXMAN: I would think those groups would welcome this proposal. It is a voluntary one, it is not mandatory. They’re doing the best job they can and I’m pleased to hear about your mother’s involvement in it. They do a great service. They make our communities more livable. What this proposal would do is no mandate, but an option for local utility companies who want to reduce consumer energy bills, they can do it through tree planting. You got shade from trees, less electricity is used, so if a utility wants to do that, as I understand it, they have to match the money, and they know that they’re helping their ratepayers save money. So I think groups, volunteer groups are great and they’re doing the best they can but this would help and I think utilities would probably want to engage them in the activity.

BLACKBURN: I thank the chairman for the explanation and I reclaim my time. I think that as we look at taking a program that has been very successful in the not-for-profit sector and pulling that in, institutionalizing it and making it a government program that we need to be very careful about how we go about that. I would think that we would not want to take steps that are going to hurt the not-for-profit sector and their good work, diminishing the work they have done while we say global warming and fighting global warming and paying umbrage to global warming is the objective of the legislation we’re bringing forward.

WAXMAN: Would the gentle lady yield —

BLACKBURN: I yield back the balance of my time.

WAXMAN: The chair will recognize himself. I would be interested in whether you think that faith-based initiatives have harmed the religious and volunteer groups that were doing great things in the community, running drug abuse programs, and other things that — where they served a very worthwhile purpose and the government wanted them — to have them do the work and that set of government agencies to do it. So I show you a different aspect of it. I hear what you’re saying and I wouldn’t want those nonprofit groups to be pushed out of the way at all. But I think this would expand it. We would have more opportunities for people to do things together. I hope we — I just want to give you a different explanation.

Update

Keep America Beautiful’s Susanne Woods:

Keep America Beautiful has 600-plus affiliates who would work with utilities to get grants for planting trees.


Update

,Ray Tretheway, Executive Director, Sacramento Tree Foundation:

Across the nation, this legislation encourages the creation of powerful new community partnerships between the electrical utility sector and nonprofit community-based organizations. These partnerships will encourage Americans to plant energy efficiency landscapes, helping to reduce household energy consumption for cooling and heating up to 25%, while contributing directly to our nation’s energy independence and green house gas emission goals.

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