Opinion: Climate change is our generation’s make-or-break moment

Published: 6/25/2022 6:02:48 AM
Modified: 6/25/2022 6:00:15 AM

Rebecca Perkins Kwoka is a state senator representing NH’s 21st District. She is a a member of NewDEAL's national network of state and local policymakers. She lives in Portsmouth with her wife and daughter.

In the 1960s, America brought together the best scientists and engineers to engage in the “space race.” Half a century later, when a global pandemic struck, we supported scientists to develop safe, effective vaccines in record time, saving lives here and around the globe.

When our nation commits to big things, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome. And when historians look back on the 2020s, I hope it will be written that we seized the moment to stem the impacts of human-made climate change.

A recent report from the United Nations stated that the window to act to prevent unsustainable climate chaos is rapidly closing. But it is not closed yet. We have time to make key changes that will create and sustain a healthy, vibrant planet for generations to come.

Late last year, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. Just as important as its impact on repairing roads and bridges, the IIJA represents the greatest opportunity our country has ever had to invest in clean energy, including to tear down some of the biggest barriers to the energy transition our country, and our plant, so desperately needs

As New York Times columnist Tom Friedman recently noted, one of the major obstacles to clean energy is delivering solar and wind energy from where it is produced to where it is needed. In other words, reliable transmission lines.

In many years working in the green energy industry, I observed this obstacle firsthand. The IIJA provides $11 billion for upgrading and fixing our transmission infrastructure, including $2.5 billion specifically to “improve access to cheaper clean energy sources.”

It is imperative that my fellow legislators in New Hampshire, and around the nation, seize this moment to implement big, bold initiatives while also leveraging private sector partnerships to unlock more funding.

But how do we do that?

I recently returned from a summit organized by NewDEAL, which brings together state and local elected officials and outside experts to identify solutions to our biggest challenges. In a panel I led with other leaders in the climate sector, we discussed how the IIJA, if invested and leveraged in the right programs, can usher in a clean energy economy while creating quality jobs and advancing equity, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color.

And we can start making progress right away.

As we look toward transitioning from dirty energy to green energy, the Department of Energy will join with the Department of Transportation to build out the nation’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure. More electric vehicles on the road not only reduces our need for dirty energy, it will make our nation more energy-independent, relying less on oil that comes from nations that may or may not hold our best interests at heart.

In order to help people in their homes, the Department of Energy announced in March that it was accepting applications from states and localities for more than $3 billion in funding for its Weatherization Assistance Program. Some of that funding can help low-income households across New Hampshire with various upgrades that will reduce energy costs.

Improvements might include installing insulation; updating heating and cooling systems; and upgrading electrical appliances. Nationwide, homeowners typically save almost $400 per year through this program.

The bipartisan bill also provides funding to help make our schools more energy efficient. Beginning this fall, school districts can apply for grants to make clean energy upgrades and improvements. There’s an additional $5 billion available to help localities purchase electric school buses rather than diesel ones.

While electric buses cost more initially, they save taxpayers money in the long run because of reduced maintenance and fuel costs. Plus, they will further reduce our dependence on foreign oil and keep harmful pollutants out of the air our children breathe.

In the New Hampshire Senate, I’m working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make these and other clean energy policies as successful as possible. And because the IIJA encourages it, I’m looking for opportunities to work with legislative partners in other states in order to amplify our efforts and reap combined benefits.

We’re at a critical moment in not only our nation’s history, but our planet’s history. As President Biden has said, “There is nothing America can’t do if we put our minds to it.”

Climate change is our generation’s make-or-break moment. There’s no time to waste.

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