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California oil spill shows why we need the climate investments in Build Back Better Act


As a major oil spill off the coast of Southern California dumps oil into the Pacific Ocean, closes beaches and threatens another ecological disaster, Congress finds itself at a pivotal moment in the climate crisis — much like it did 11 years ago. 

At that time, the House passed landmark climate legislation that needed action in the Senate. While the Senate stalled, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill devastated marine life and public health along the Gulf of Mexico, a stark reminder of the consequences of the U.S. dependance on fossil fuels. 

But the Senate failed to act, and the prospect of legislation faded that winter when control of the House of Representatives flipped to Republicans — many of whom were ardent climate change deniers. 

This time we must do better. The ongoing series of disasters proves fossil fuels are not safe. They are not worth our billions in federal subsidies or the price we pay to clean up the mess left behind by fossil fuel companies.

For the last decade, the consequences of inaction have been laid bare for all to see: record wildfires, brutal heat waves, unprecedented droughts, stronger storms, and now another oil spill. All this from just one degree of warming, with more on the way unless we change the way we produce and use energy.   

The impacts go well beyond these large-scale disasters. The fossil fuel industry is also responsible for environmental injustices that reach directly into communities of color and disadvantaged communities. In my Los Angeles County district, oil wells are literally between homes and right next to schools. Refineries and oil storage tanks are more prominent than ocean views and lines of trucks belching diesel pollution into the air race back and forth from the Port of Los Angeles. My constituents have paid the price with much higher rates of cancer, asthma, and other respiratory diseases than the rest of the country.

Thankfully, we are on the brink of action now.

With the unprecedented climate investments in the Build Back Better Act, we face another consequential moment. Will this Congress and administration act in a way that recognizes the true scale of the climate crisis? Will we jumpstart the transition off fossil fuels with the urgency it requires?

Or, like we did 11 years ago, will we give in to long-running dishonest efforts by the fossil fuel lobby to weaken and defeat the climate and environmental justice provisions in the Build Back Better Act? This may be our best chance in a generation for Congress to meaningfully address the climate crisis. 

It’s critical we hold the line on the investments in climate and environmental justice in the Build Back Better Act. These include transformational steps to move our transportation system to zero emissions, create climate smart ports, incentivize a dramatic build out of clean energy, and support the retrofit and construction of zero emission homes and buildings. 

All these bold actions combined will mean cleaner air, lower energy bills, the creation of millions of good paying green jobs, and the development of an American manufacturing base for climate friendly products. 

It will be a game changer for environmental justice communities hit hardest by both climate change and out-of-control pollution. 

And Congress should end all fossil fuel subsidies to help pay for it.

While the oil spill is front page news, every year we allow the fossil fuel industry in the United States to emit several billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere without consequence, while also elevating the rates of cancer and asthma from smog and particulate matter.  

Why should we allow the fossil fuel industry to continue profiting from polluting our oceans, air, and communities — and forever change our climate? Let’s reclaim those dollars and use them to keep hope alive for staving off the worst impacts of climate change. 

We can succeed where others failed in 2010. A victory can come just in time to send President Biden to the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow with a strong hand to play for winning greater global climate ambition. 

At home, communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities have organized relentlessly to create this window for us to act. They have been told “no” far too many times over the years, while the fossil fuel lobby continued to dictate America’s energy policy. 

No more. 

It’s time for Congress to flip the script — for all our sake — and move beyond fossil fuels. 

It’s time to pass the Build Back Better Act with climate and environmental justice front and center. 

Nanette Diaz Barragán  represents the 44th District of California and is co-chair of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force.

Tags 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster California oil spill Climate change Joe Biden

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