News Journal: As incoming environmental chair, Sen. Tom Carper lays out his agenda

Before Wednesday turned to chaos, Sen. Tom Carper walked the grounds of the U.S. Capitol with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican representing Carper’s home state of West Virginia and a fellow member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. It’s a committee that Carper will chair in the 117th Congress.

They spent their five-minute walk from one side of the building to the other talking about an agenda. They talked about a plan to attack climate change and create jobs, Carper said, and changes that can be made to rebuild certain roads, highways and bridges.

“We literally, in four-five minutes, planned our agenda for the next six months,” Carper said Thursday after he arrived in Wilmington via train from Washington following the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College vote.

A big early win, Carper said, would be a 50-state deal on auto emissions similar to an agreement reached in California between that state and automakers BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo that will cut vehicle emissions – a move that defied the Trump administration’s attempts to overturn Obama-era federal fuel economy standards.

None of his agenda items comes before what Carper called “job No. 1” of the Senate, which Democrats now hold a slim majority in after this week’s runoff elections in Georgia.

First and foremost will be putting resources into the continued rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I want to make sure that we provide the resources that are needed to put this pandemic in our rearview mirror,” Carper said. “The best way to do that is to get off the dime on vaccinations and vaccinate the people in this country, the ones that are willing.”

Carper called the Senate majority “slim” on Thursday. A day later, that slim majority was on full display when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., seemed to veer away from Biden’s plan of $2,000 stimulus checks.

“One of the advantages of having the Democratic majority, even a narrow majority, we’re not going to go off on a wild tangent, neither are the Republicans. We’ll find ways to work together.”

Carper’s other environmental goals include a focus on wastewater treatment and creating corridors around the country with electric vehicle charging and hydrogen fueling stations. He also brought up the ground contamination at hundreds of military bases, where chemicals, known as PFAS, have long been an issue.

“These are all things we can work on that are good for the planet – cleaner air and cleaner water, adjust climate change and create jobs,” he said. “That’s the agenda.”

Here in Delaware, Carper has referred to the state he’s represented as a senator since 2001 as “America’s tailpipe.”

Delaware ranks among the worst in the country, but not of its own doing. Around 90% of the state’s air pollution comes from other states, officials have said. Carper said he’s looking for an “ally” in the Environmental Protection Agency.

“It would be nice to have an EPA that believes that it’s wrong for states to put up air pollution that is simply blown to us,” Carper said.