Earmarks Include Big-Ticket Spending on Environment and Climate

'Grid Resilience and Equity,' 'Climate-Smart Family Forests,' lobster pot removal among funded projects
By Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester
Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times. He can be reached at nathan.worcester@epochtimes.us. Follow Nathan on Twitter @nnworcester
April 20, 2022 Updated: April 21, 2022

With the return of earmarks after a decade-long moratorium, Democrats and Republicans alike have dedicated significant discretionary spending to projects advertised as protecting the environment.

The Epoch Times examined a Bipartisan Policy Center spreadsheet on earmarks, also referred to as congressionally directed spending, from the March omnibus legislation.

The largest single environmental earmark is also the largest earmark in the entire package. It was requested by a Republican, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.).

Mast obtained $350 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Everglades restoration through the Corps’ South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program. This added to the $1.1 billion the program received following the passage of last year’s infrastructure legislation.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s spreadsheet shows that major earmark requests are a bipartisan phenomenon, although not always in a clean-cut way.

Senate Appropriations Committee Republicans Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were the biggest earmark requestors in dollar terms, reflecting the trend whereby appropriations committee members are often the top recipients of earmarks. (The Epoch Times’s Mark Tapscott has written two deep dives on trends in the new earmark spending).

Shelby’s embrace of earmarks comes as no surprise, as he joined Murkowski, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and some other Republicans in objecting to the initial earmark ban during debates in late 2010.

Overall, however, Democrats obtained $5.23 billion in earmarks, more than the $4.4 billion obtained by Republicans. Republicans in the House and Senate also only secured about a third as many individual earmarks as their Democratic colleagues.

Most Republicans in the conservative House Freedom Caucus didn’t request any earmarks.

Yet a new analysis from The Epoch Times has revealed that some lawmakers affiliated with the caucus did in fact receive earmarks, despite the group previously stating that it “opposes earmarks, whether in the 117th Congress or any future Congress.”

AOC, Other Democrats Spend in Name of Climate Change

While earmarks are popular on both sides of the aisle, Democrats were almost alone in explicitly requesting money in the name of climate.

For example, while ‘climate’ is referenced by name in 15 earmarks from Democrats, only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), requested money in an earmark that directly referenced climate.

Kinzinger sought and received $660,000 for Northern Illinois University for “Understanding and Mitigating Future Weather and Climate Risks to Agriculture.”

Democrats obtained money for everything from “Community Climate Change Impact Analysis” to “Climate-Smart Family Forests in Vermont.”

Of course, not all funding ultimately connected with climate literally includes the word ‘climate.’ Such spending encompasses earmarks related to the heavily promoted energy transition from hydrocarbons to wind, solar, and other renewables.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), requested $800,000 “for offshore wind energy training program, including equipment” at SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx—similar to the more than $1 million in funding for an offshore wind technician training program at the University of Delaware obtained by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Ocasio-Cortez also joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in requesting $263,000 for a group known as the Coastal Preservation Network.

While “coastal preservation” may sound like a reference to coastal erosion caused by climate change, a look at the group’s “About” page suggests that they have a more narrow focus on shoreline cleanups and parkland improvements in College Point, a neighborhood in Queens, New York.

Ocasio-Cortez obtained $263,000 for “Restoration & Stabilization of Two On-Water Platforms on Flushing Bay.”

In a statement describing her close to $7 million in total earmark spending, Ocasio-Cortez explained the Coastal Preservation Network earmark by saying that “there are currently very few sites where College Point residents can go and safely enjoy the views available in their coastal community.”

Yet a look at Google Maps suggests that the neighborhood has multiple parks or public lands along the coast, including Hermon A. MacNeil Park and Powell’s Cove Park.

While those parks look out across the East River at nearby parks in the Bronx, including Ferry Point Park and the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, the on-water platforms funded by the new earmark look out across Flushing Bay toward LaGuardia Airport and Rikers Island, which used to house New York’s main jail.

The platforms are about three miles from Flushing Meadows Corona Park, another recipient of climate-related earmark funding—Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) obtained $531,000 for “Flushing Meadows Corona Park: A Hub for Climate Resilience” for use by a group called Waterfront Alliance.

“There are some locations in College Point with waterfront views. But on the south end of College Point (bordering Flushing) where the platforms are located, there is little public access to the waterfront,” said Kathryn Cervino, president of the Coastal Preservation Network, in an email response to The Epoch Times.

“This part of town is much more densely populated due to zoning variations within town. The only other public spot where people can access the waterfront in south College Point is Big Rock Beach, which has been neglected and heavily polluted for decades, with no one caring for it.”

When asked about existing open space in College Point, an Ocasio-Cortez spokesperson told The Epoch Times, “We certainly find the allocation of federal funds to stabilize water platforms that allow families to enjoy the outdoors to be a worthy use.”

Solar Power, ‘Grid Resilience and Equity,’ and Electrification Funded, Too

Solar power projects also received substantial earmark funding. These included $5 million for the Cogency Solar Power Project in Colorado, requested by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

In addition, Evanston, Illinois, which has been ranked the Midwest’s fourth wealthiest town, received $500,000 for an accessible solar power program through a request from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Along similar lines, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control received $2 million for “reducing inequity in access to solar power,” through a request from Carper.

Another member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), secured $1 million for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority for off-grid residential solar power in the Navajo Nation.

Republican earmarks related to renewable energy include $2.5 million to the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska for a geothermal project, a request from Murkowski. She received $2 million for a pilot electric ferry project as well.

Universities also received ample earmark funding, including for climate-inspired energy programs.

For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst received $995,000 for “Grid Resilience and Equity in the Energy Transition,” thanks to the efforts of Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

George Mason University received almost $2 million for the “Virginia Climate Center,” the result of a request from Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), while Morehouse College received more than $1.4 million for “an environmental justice and sustainability program,” as requested by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Other major earmarks covered mass transit electrification and electric vehicle (EV) support.

Notably, one earmark requested by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) devoted $10 million to electrifying a bus route in Honolulu.

Similarly, Durbin obtained more than $8.25 million for the “Illinois Electric Bus and Charging Infrastructure Program,” and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) received more than $6.3 million for the “Salem Area Mass Transit Zero Emission Bus Fleet Electrification Project.”

Rep. Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-Va.) was the recipient of almost $400,000 for “Electric School Bus and Associated Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Infrastructure” in Falls Church, Virginia, an affluent Washington suburb in what has been ranked the second wealthiest county in the United States.

On the Republican side, Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) obtained more than $2.35 million for the “Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid)—The Rapid Zero Emission Bus Project.”

Virtual Paddle Experience, Lobster Pot Removal Also Funded

Not all of the most striking environmental funding was related to climate.

For instance, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) obtained $95,000 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop a virtual paddle experience in Washington-area Charles County, Maryland.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) received $569,000 for the “Removal of Derelict Lobster Pots” by the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

Merkley obtained $500,000 from the U.S. Forest Service for “The Nature Conservancy for Equitable and Just Canopy Cover Greater Portland Area Project.”

Finally, and on the costlier side, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) obtained $8 million for an environmental impact statement on a proposed passenger rail route connecting Atlanta with Savannah.

Nathan Worcester is an environmental reporter at The Epoch Times. He can be reached at nathan.worcester@epochtimes.us. Follow Nathan on Twitter @nnworcester