Biden administration needs to start acting on climate change at the local level
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration has made a historic commitment to combating climate change. For the first time, the United States has the potential to actually meet its climate goals. But we must remember that doing so will also require effective executive action to implement and support the bill’s policies.
So far, in my hometown of Philadelphia, the actions of the Biden administration are not encouraging.
Inexplicably, the federal government is spending millions of dollars that will increase emissions at some of Philadelphia’s most iconic buildings. Independence Hall National Historical Park, the cradle of our democracy, and 30th Street Station, the lynchpin of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor network, are in the process of converting from efficient steam energy to new on-site fossil fuel boilers and emissions stacks. These changes will lock in decades of additional pollution and undermine Philadelphia’s effort to transition from fossil gas to renewable power, not to mention that there are cleaner, greener, economically efficient choices. Moreover, the actions directly contradict President Biden’s executive order requiring all federal capital projects to aggressively seek to reduce their carbon footprint.
The stakes for carbon emissions at federal buildings are enormous. The General Services Administration alone manages over 375 million square feet of space in nearly 10,000 buildings. Amtrak owns and leases space in dozens of stations across the country. Federal departments and agencies can make investment decisions and capital commitments to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions without having to pass a single law or proceed through the regulatory process.
Reducing the government’s carbon footprint simply requires the will and determination to do it.
But doing so requires a full commitment from the president down through the cabinet secretaries to the entirety of the federal bureaucracy. Unfortunately, this commitment has been absent from recent actions we have seen firsthand in Philadelphia. Instead of finding ways to cut carbon, in our discussions with officials at the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, Amtrak and the Department of Transportation (DOT), staff has seemingly focused on excuse-making and red tape. There appears to be no pressure for on-the-ground decision-makers to enforce Biden’s big promises.
The transportation sector accounts for the largest proportion of America’s carbon emissions. Under the climate-friendly Biden administration, it would stand to reason that DOT and Amtrak would lead by example for both the transportation sector and the federal government by cutting carbon emissions across its entire portfolio. Leadership matters.
The reality is, despite the rhetoric from the Biden administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, DOT and Amtrak have been unwilling to enforce the executive order and reduce carbon emissions at the 30th Street Station project, which, at nearly 500,000 square feet of space, is one of the largest rail stations in the nation. It is hardly a stretch to assume that the failure to seriously tackle carbon emissions in Philadelphia is being repeated throughout the country.
Cutting carbon and addressing climate change starts one project at a time and there is no time to waste. If climate promises are not even kept at federally owned buildings, how can we trust the Biden administration to effectively implement and support the Inflation Reduction Act?
Joe Minott has been an environmental activist for over 40 years. Minott serves as the executive director of the Clean Air Council, one of the oldest environmental health advocacy organizations in the United States. Addressing climate change is the council’s top priority.