Congressional Dems tout clean energy

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Report says doing nothing on climate change over next 50 years would cost 227,000 lives in Illinois alone

U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Sean Casten speak at an EPA news conference in Chicago last year. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Sean Casten speak at an EPA news conference in Chicago last year. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Illinois congressional Democrats insisted Tuesday that climate change is a public-health issue and, by extension, an economic issue demanding immediate action with the new Biden administration.

U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove led five colleagues Tuesday in an online news conference touting the findings in a new report prepared by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and its Subcommittee on Environment. According to Casten, the report can break down into regions of 1,000 square miles, enabling statewide projections.

In Illinois alone, the report projected, if the United States returns to the Paris Climate Agreement and holds to its goal of holding global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the state would prevent 227,000 premature deaths over the next 50 years, along with 253,000 emergency-room visits and 21 million lost workdays, with the economic value of the health benefits estimated at $1.8 trillion, or $36 billion a year.

Calling that a “conservative evaluation” of the health benefits, Casten said it served to “quantify the economic gains” to be had. “These are huge numbers,” he added. “We have a moral obligation to act on climate change. We also have an economic obligation.”

“Illinois can gain from adopting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. “We have, however, lost valuable time” under President Trump, he added, although “we’re back on the right track” with the incoming Biden administration and the president-elect’s declared intention to return to the Paris accords.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster of Naperville bemoaned Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, calling it “a stunning abdication of American leadership and a display of scientific ignorance.”

Casten pointed out that many Trump policies were imposed by executive order without congressional approval, making them easier to reverse. “There is cause for a lot of optimism here,” he said. “Donald Trump has been a very anti-environmental president. He’s decimated the (Environmental Protection Agency). He’s worked very hard to subsidize and bail out his friends in the fossil-fuel industry.” And yet renewable energy and electric cars have grown during his four years in office.

“This one issue, the issue of the climate, is so urgent right now,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston. “We kept adding to the problem instead of addressing it” under Trump. She pointed to wildfires and severe weather observed across the state, the nation, and around the world, as well as “100-year floods of the Des Plaines River that’s happening every other year.”

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson called the report “an immediate call to action,” adding that the health impacts of climate change are “especially detrimental” in minority and low-income communities.

Calling it a “gender-equality crisis” and a “racial-justice crisis,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville said those disparities are especially felt in infant mortality — already an issue for African Americans.

“We have the opportunity to look ahead to protect generations to come,” Kelly said. “The time for examining the problem is finally over. The time to act is now.”

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield said climate change is “impacting our environment and straining our infrastructure.” He said the report calls for Congress to “lead the green economy into the future,” adding that “with the new administration, we have the chance to turn the corner and make this a different world.”

Schakowsky too seized on infrastructure, saying any capital bill put forth by the Biden administration should also “put millions, literally millions of people back to work” on “clean-energy jobs.” Shakowsky said, “We’re looking to do both at once,” repair the nation’s infrastructure and lead toward a clean-energy economy.

Many of the legislators said they feel there’s a chance to crack the partisan divide in Congress on an issue both sides agree is increasingly urgent. “It’s changed,” Foster said. Republicans, he added, have always shown an interest in innovation and research and development, even as they’ve held to subsidies for fossil fuels. But with Republicans losing ground with younger voters, who feel a keener pressure to address climate change, they’ve come to understand “there’s no future for that party” if they don’t address climate.

Schakowsky pointed out there are more than 350 House bills sitting on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, many of them dealing with climate and the environment. “If you get Mitch McConnell to call some of those bills,” she added, “I think you’d see more bipartisanship.”

“The youth care about this issue,” Casten said. “It does matter to the American people.”

And it matters to them economically, as market forces are already pushing consumers to adopt solar and wind energy wherever possible and consider electric cars. Citing that the fossil-fuel industry receives $650 billion in subsidies each year, Casten wondered “what would happen if we took off the emergency break” and stripped coal and oil of that funding, allowing market forces to reign. “Americans like cheap energy, and clean energy is cheap energy,” he added. “It’s what American consumers want.”

Foster too pushed for investment into decarbonization, saying, “When it comes to the health of the planet, we do not have time to waste with denial of science or conspiracy theories. We owe it to our children and to future generations who will inherit this planet, so let’s get to work.”

“Our failure to act in this moment will raise our energy costs, cause needless death and suffering, and will cripple our economy,” Casten said. He urged his colleagues to press for policies reflecting “what our children know is scientifically necessary,” not what legislators consider politically feasible.

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December 8, 2020 at 03:52PM

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