WASHINGTON -- More than 250 local and state government officials, health professionals, small business owners, academics and environmental groups from 34 states plus the District of Columbia sent a letter to Congress Thursday urging them to quickly pass legislation to address climate change. The U.S. House of Representatives voted for more than $500 billion in climate and environmental investments in December 2021 as part of the Build Back Better Act. That legislation is stalled in the U.S. Senate. The letter, organized by Environment America and U.S. PIRG, follows remarks by President Joe Biden, Sen. Joe Manchin and other key negotiators that the climate and environmental parts of the bill likely have the votes to pass.
“This letter makes it clear that the Americans who run our cities and schools, keep us healthy and run local businesses feel the urgency of combating climate change,” said Environment America Washington Legislative Office Director Lisa Frank. “Congress must seize this opportunity and pass key climate investments to jumpstart our transition to clean energy and protect our environment for generations to come.”
The signers’ geographic diversity reflects the reality of how the climate crisis is impacting people across the country. Last year, more than four in ten Americans were hit with a climate related disaster, from raging wildfires and flooding to record-breaking heat waves. As global warming progresses, these types of extreme weather disasters will intensify and become more frequent.
“DeKalb County residents and businesses have suffered from the impacts of climate change and burning of fossil fuels,” said Commissioner Ted Terry of DeKalb County, Georgia, who signed the letter. “Whether it be severe flooding in vulnerable neighborhoods, persistent air pollution from tailpipe emissions, or the urban heat island effect, our people are experiencing this global crisis in our own community right now. This is why we locally are joining leaders from around the world in commitments to transition to a net zero carbon economy, clean energy and clean transportation. But we can’t do it alone, we need the support of our state and federal leaders in this urgent evolution to a greener society.”
Major climate investments that could be enacted include extending and expanding tax credits for clean energy. A Rhodium Group study found that a 10-year package of tax incentives could cut power sector emissions between 64% and 73% below 2005 levels by 2031.
Shifting to clean energy and away from fossil fuels could also have a major impact on public health. Air pollution from coal, oil and gas operations are estimated to be responsible for more than one in ten deaths every year. Health professionals who signed the letter also expressed concerns about the effects of climate change on asthma, allergies and increasingly deadly heat waves.
“[I]t is clear that the disasters linked to the climate crisis are exacting a serious toll on the health and safety of families and workers in many parts of our nation,” said Michael Heumann, an environmental and occupational epidemiologist in Portland, Oregon, which experienced a record-breaking deadly heat wave in 2021. “We must act now, to protect people and reduce the risks we face each year.”
In addition to clean energy investments, Congress is also considering funding to reduce air and water pollution, tax credits to bring down the cost of new and used electric vehicles, federal funding for zero emissions trucks and buses, and programs to reduce emissions from agriculture. These investments follow a record $7.5 billion passed in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to build out a national electric vehicle charging network. That funding is currently beginning to be distributed to states.
“We have a much better shot at a healthy climate thanks to investments Congress and the Biden administration are making in electric vehicle charging infrastructure,” said U.S. PIRG Environment Campaigns Director Matt Casale. “But with emissions continuing to rise, we need to shoot the moon. Bringing down the cost of solar, electric vehicles and other climate solutions, which this package does, is a necessary piece of the puzzle. It’s time for Congress to act.”
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