A failure to act on climate is not an option
As a nation, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment. Once-in-a-generation climate catastrophes are becoming regular occurrences, threatening communities and infrastructure in every town and city in the United States. The western United States is facing record-shattering heat waves, an ongoing megadrought, and explosive wildfires that have displaced thousands. The Atlantic hurricane season kicked off with another record-breaking storm. How many more signals do we need to demonstrate that our communities are in peril and our climate is in crisis?
Climate disasters threaten public health and put our nation’s energy system under incredible strain. As we saw with extreme weather-related power outages earlier this year in Texas, this burden falls disproportionately on Black, Latino and other communities of color. We need real, systemic change to address environmental injustices in the same communities that are most harmed by the climate crisis.
The stakes could not be higher. Congress must act now to make transformative investments to tackle the climate crisis, transition to clean energy, and take aggressive action on environmental justice.
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, announced in March, includes these ambitious investments to spur clean energy growth, limit pollution from power plants, reduce carbon pollution from the fossil fuel industry, and expand the electric vehicle (EV) market through tax credits and investments in EV infrastructure. It also includes a groundbreaking proposal to deliver 40 percent of the benefits from those investments to those communities who have been most harmed by dangerous pollution. We need all of these provisions and more to meet Biden’s goal of a 50 to 52 percent reduction in carbon pollution from 2005 levels by 2030.
The bipartisan infrastructure deal announced by Biden and members of Congress in late June appears to be a necessary political step toward the larger American Jobs Plan, but it does not make the investments scientists tell us are needed to address the climate crisis. If Congress only passes this smaller infrastructure bill — and not the ambitious jobs and clean energy proposal outlined by the president in March — we will have failed to protect our children and grandchildren from the growing climate crisis.
Biden ran and won on a strong commitment to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild our economy with environmental justice, clean energy investments and ambitious goals for tackling the climate crisis. More than 81 million Americans turned out to vote on these promises, and the president and Congress must seize this opportunity to deliver.
Climate champions in Congress are listening to their constituents: More than 120 House members argued for immediate and strong climate action in a letter to Biden. We also are encouraged that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) made clear their commitment to ensuring that the climate crisis and environmental injustice are addressed in any final package. As the legislative process plays out, we are hopeful that Biden also will remain steadfast in his support for big, bold, and urgent climate action.
Any infrastructure package Congress puts forward must be paired with bold plans to tackle the climate crisis and advance environmental justice. If Congress fails to enact solutions that match the severity of the climate crisis, communities across the country will be left to pay the cost of inaction. We call on members of Congress to join us in this existential fight.
Abigail Dillen is the president of Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest environmental law organization.
Fred Krupp is the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group.