A bold and comprehensive proposal to act on major crises facing America
There are four major crises going in this country that we must address immediately and simultaneously: (1) the public health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) the systemic racism crisis that has manifested itself in part through the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color; (3) the economic inequality crisis that leaves millions of families powerless and underemployed; and (4) our relentless overheating of the planet, which threatens life on Earth as we know it.
All of these crises intersect with our environmental policy, particularly our green energy policy. By building green and turbo-charging the transition away from fossil fuels, we can grow the economy in a way that puts the most affected workers — pipefitters, boilermakers, laborers, coal miners — and frontline communities — Black, Brown and Indigenous communities beset by environmental racism — at the center of the table and helps us recover from the economic damage of the COVID pandemic.
Transforming our transportation system will be critical in the fight against climate change and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounted for the largest portion of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2018 at 28 percent, with light duty vehicles causing most (59 percent) of those emissions and medium-heavy duty trucks nearly a quarter of them (23 percent).
This is clear evidence that in addition to expanding green public transportation — high-speed rail, subways and EV buses — we also need full adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and a massive build-out of EV charging infrastructure to get us there.
We need to be bold, and we need to be comprehensive. This is the perspective I’ve brought into every energy and climate action I’ve taken since entering Congress, including one of my largest legislative undertakings to date, the EV Freedom Act.
The EV Freedom Act is a bold proposal because it is comprehensive and it is fast: we would create a national network of publicly available, high speed EV charging infrastructure along the entire U.S. highway system, and do it within five years. It would also create good-paying, union jobs installing these high-speed chargers and substations to support them, and it would build demand for electric vehicles (creating more good auto jobs) as the expanded infrastructure bolstered consumer confidence.
I based my EV Freedom Act on four principles that I believe should underpin all legislation at this critical juncture in American history. One, legislation must be bold, dripping with American innovation and creativity. Two, it must be comprehensive, so its climate change impact is massive and clear. Three, it must make change very fast, so we build undeniable momentum and global leadership. And four, our policies must be inclusive and focus on frontline and vulnerable communities and the most affected workers, so they create a more racially and economically just society.
The crises may present a daunting challenge, but also an opportunity for societal transformation. Transitioning our economy is going to be a tremendous job-creating proposition that can revitalize communities that have often been left behind, and our government has a crucial role to play in guiding us to a green future.
And now, at last, we have a leader at the helm in President Joe Biden who knows this and is intent on investing in clean technology, including EVs. His Build Back Better plan, a blueprint for the energy transformation required to save our planet from catastrophic climate change, includes procuring a fully electric federal fleet of 645,000 vehicles and building 500,000 new EV chargers across the country.
President Biden is also assembling an impressive Cabinet that will make this transition possible, especially in renewable energy and EV expansions in the nomination of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for secretary of Energy and Transportation, respectively.
I saw Granholm’s energy leadership firsthand while leading the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth. I started working for Granholm in January 2007 in the middle of the auto industry implosion. She knew that vehicle electrification and retraining workers were key to Michigan’s recovery and that we could tackle climate change and unemployment while creating new opportunities for workers and businesses alike.
So, to those folks who might be asking “Can we do this?” I say, “Look, are we America or not? Are we the place of ingenuity and creativity or not? Are we going to let the Chinese master electric vehicles before us? Are we going to let the Dutch or British dominate offshore wind?”
Not only do we have the ingenuity, Congress also has the tools necessary to pass this type of bold legislation — today. Many of the measures I’m advocating for can pass as part of a budget reconciliation package that requires only a simple majority in the Senate.
We have the opportunity with the upcoming FY2022 Reconciliation package to focus on infrastructure and create industrial and energy policy allowing America to lead the way in tackling this climate crisis and revitalize our economy. We can create jobs right here. We can manufacture the EVs, solar panels, batteries and wind turbines necessary to drive an environmentally conscious industrial revolution centered on workers’ rights to make working class jobs middle class again. Only a renaissance of American manufacturing will allow us to take climate change head on. We may face big, interlocking crises. But as a Midwestern guy from the heartland of America’s manufacturing, I feel in my bones that this is America’s moment to shine.
Levin represents the 9th District of Michigan and is the vice chair of the Committee on Education and Labor.
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