EAU CLAIRE — Pointing to interruptions in the local food chain during the COVID-19 pandemic, Eau Claire hospitality company Pablo Group, along with a UW-Eau Claire Student Senate official, threw their support behind climate legislation championed by President Joe Biden at a Thursday event on climate change.
Kent Buell, food and beverage director for the Pablo Group, and UW-EC Student Senate Academic Affairs Director Elizabeth TenBarge urged Congress to pass significant climate and infrastructure funding.
The event at the Lismore Hotel in downtown Eau Claire was hosted by the Climate Action Campaign, an environmental activism group. The CAC is holding events in 12 states this fall to promote clean energy and investments in climate infrastructure, the group said in a news release.
Buell said the Pablo Group — which owns and operates several Eau Claire restaurants, including Water Street eatery The Nucleus and downtown bar The Firehouse — has struggled to help small local farms that supply meat, vegetables and other products during the pandemic. He added that investments in clean energy would help local farmers who are fighting the effects of pollution and soil runoff.
“The cost of local meat processing doubled overnight as facilities became overwhelmed with demand,” Buell said Thursday. “The pandemic did not create any new issues in the food chain. It brought to light what’s been under the surface for decades … our food systems are rigid, and our food chain is responsible for 25-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
TenBarge, a UW-Eau Claire sophomore, said she hoped future climate investments would encourage UW-Eau Claire graduates to find work in the green energy industry.
“Incentivizing clean energy in Eau Claire could lead to the use of clean, renewable energy on campus,” TenBarge said.
Biden’s climate proposals are part of his broader policy agenda, which his administration has dubbed the “Build Back Better” plan.
Though a pandemic stimulus bill backed by Democrats passed in March, Biden’s other legislative priorities — at the center of which is a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill — faces uncertainty in Congress.
The bill proposes spending billions to rebuild domestic infrastructure, combat climate change and expand or introduce a range of services, from free pre-kindergarten classes for children to dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors. All would be financed through tax increases on corporations and the wealthy.
House Democratic leaders struck a deal with moderates last month, moving the infrastructure agenda forward, but centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and other moderates said this week that they won’t support a $3.5 trillion effort.
Republicans plan to oppose the $3.5 trillion budget proposal, characterizing it as big government spending, and have argued that Congress instead should be focused on the crisis in Afghanistan.
“I think it’s important to those of us who are moderate Democrats to make sure that our voices are heard,” said Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., one of the negotiators.
In Eau Claire Thursday, Buell said the Pablo Group “could not be more supportive of the Build Back Better budget as it looks to address gaps in equity, sustainability, extreme weather events and the diversity of distribution within our local food system.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set a goal of passing both the infrastructure bill and a Senate-approved, nearly $1 trillion bipartisan package of other public works projects by Oct. 1.