Environment

Environment

Protecting Our Environment and Transitioning to Clean Energy Amid the Economic Recovery

Climate change is one of the biggest threats faced by humanity, and we need to do far more to stop it. That’s why I support a Green New Deal. We need to transition to an entirely clean energy economy by 2030, starting with the most polluting sources of energy first. We need to make dramatic investments in clean energy – and in doing so, make sure clean energy jobs pay well and are good union jobs. And we must repair and upgrade our existing energy infrastructure to reduce pollution, save families money, and remain competitive in a 21st-century global economy.

Congress must also maintain, establish, and fully enforce environmental regulations that protect our ecosystems, natural resources, and public health. Many of these laws control exposure to pollutants that disproportionately impact low-income individuals, families, and communities of color. We need to do far more for communities most impacted by the effects of climate change right now, which are often the communities that are most vulnerable for other reasons too.

I will hold corporate polluters that are poisoning our kids and communities accountable and fight against offshore drilling. I have proudly signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and won’t accept a dime from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, or corporate PACs.

And I will fight for the federal government to uphold our commitments to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Working in the Obama Administration, I saw the value and urgency of the Paris Climate Agreement and will push to re-enter it. We need to protect our environment and address climate change with the urgency it deserves.

We also have to take on these challenges in the midst of the economic recovery from COVID-19.

In May of this year, there was not a single zip code in the 53rd Congressional District with less than 20% unemployment — including eight zip codes where the rate was 30% or higher. The next Congress will be almost entirely focused on recovering from the economic crisis we are now facing.

And while the $3 trillion dollars already appropriated by Congress to address the crisis is a good start, it should be considered a stabilization, not a stimulus — meant to help individuals and businesses get through the acute crisis, but not enough to get the economy back moving again. For that, we will need more. And the decisions that we make right now will have vast, long-term consequences on the shape of the global economy. That’s why I believe it is of the utmost importance that we imbue all COVID-19 recovery with a goal of lowering carbon emissions to reach an entirely clean energy economy by 2030. I have laid out the following proposals for how to ensure we are addressing climate change as we are addressing economic recovery:

The immediate assistance should lay the foundation for a greener future

Focus on direct assistance to families and small businesses. In the immediate, we must prioritize additional assistance directly to families and small businesses that are hurting. This also means prioritizing assistance to those sectors with the most unemployment — namely service sector workers. We also must be clear-eyed that as we look toward a prolonged period of social distancing, large infrastructure projects may be hard to build safely.

Government assistance should not lock-in high emission industries. We need to make sure that as the federal government is spending trillions of dollars shoring up our economy, we don’t inadvertently prioritize and lock-in high emission industries and companies that otherwise would not be economically feasible. This means that any bail out of high carbon industries, such as air travel or car manufacturing, should include stringent carbon reduction conditions. It also means ending fossil fuel subsidies and not bailing out fossil fuel industry companies, especially those that, due to the low price of oil, would otherwise not survive. And it means including climate change as a risk when evaluating the minimum “risk-based capital ratio” that financial institutions are required to maintain, when conducting stress tests of financial institutions, and when determining limits on the amount of risky assets allowed in a financial institution’s investment portfolio.

Quantitative Easing and other Federal Reserve lending should prioritize low carbon emitting companies. Congress should direct the Federal Reserve to prioritize purchasing corporate debt from companies who have targets for reducing their carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals. This will ensure that high emission companies won’t be overweighted and have an unfair advantage in terms of liquid capital.

 

We should use this time to do the preparatory work to ensure that green investments are shovel ready when we are able to do big infrastructure spending. As soon as it is safe to begin large infrastructure spending, the focus should be on projects that are ready to go — because people are really hurting right now. In order to be competitive with existing off-the-shelf projects that often don’t take into account the effect on climate change, we must begin the planning and approval process now for climate friendly projects.

Longer term stimulus should focus on building resilient and sustainable infrastructure

All longer term stimulus should be aimed at things that are built to last, which means they need to be climate-conscious. The 2008 Recovery Act spurred huge investments in clean energy and energy efficiency and helped galvanize entire industries. In fact, a recent study shows that green stimulus policies have the largest return on investment in the long term.

Invest in projects that serve dual goals of lowering carbon emissions and immediately addressing human suffering. San Diego has a housing crisis, and any responsible recovery plan must include a component of housing assistance. As we address housing insecurity by providing more funding to build housing that is affordable, including through funding the Housing Trust Fund and expanding the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, we should ensure that all new housing built with federal subsidies is carbon neutral. We should also invest in green housing retrofits, like insulating buildings to make them more energy efficient and installing rooftop solar. Here in the 53rd District, we also have a number of schools with higher than safe levels of lead. We should fund green school retrofits, and particularly focus on eliminating lead and installing air filters so that schools are less susceptible to air pollution. And we should ensure that these investments go to frontline and vulnerable communities first.

Invest in projects that will create the most jobs. Given the scale of the climate change crisis, there is much that needs to be done. But we should prioritize those measures that boost aggregate demand and employment. While most currently unemployed workers will not be helped by construction jobs created by infrastructure, we can use out-of-work service workers to help with home insulation, installation, tree planting, local food economies, public transit maintenance and operations, and local and sustainable textiles and apparel. We also need to invest in innovation in new technology, like energy storage and carbon capture, that will create jobs over the long term and will be important to meet our emission reduction goals. The San Diego region is well-placed to benefit from these investments due to our tech-savvy workforce. And we must ensure that these new jobs are good-paying, union jobs.

Infrastructure investment will have to be a part of any full recovery package. We know that our domestic infrastructure is crumbling, and to stay competitive in the 21st century, we need to vastly increase our investments. We know that we need more funding for modernizing and building schools, increasing mass transit, extending internet connectivity and rural broadband, rebuilding our crumbling highways and bridges, retrofit existing projects to be more energy efficient, and ensure we have the highest quality water infrastructure. We need to invest in renewable energy projects such as wind and solar farms, and infrastructure such as clean energy networks, microgrids, electric vehicles, clean R&D, electric bus deployment, and natural capital investment for ecosystem regeneration. And we know that more funding alone will not solve the problem. We should commit that all projects funded by the federal government contribute to a net-zero electricity sector. We also need to modernize the public evaluation framework for projects to ensure they take into account the latest research. We need to ensure projects are selected based on impact, not politics. And we need to streamline permitting, break down silos that limit funds to a single type of transportation, and encourage 21st-century design and technology. We should also explore merit-based competitive grants instead of handing money directly to state governments.

We cannot lose sight of the challenges of the future. As we move more and more information, connection, and work online to avoid spreading COVID-19, we also need to remember that this is not without its environmental consequences. In fact, one study suggests that by 2030, data server farms could account for ⅕ of total energy usage. We must work with technology companies to ensure their data servers are as energy efficient as possible, incentivize them to be carbon neutral, and work to electrify our grid and make our electricity cleaner to offset this upcoming challenge.