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Tucson opinion: How climate change is harming Tucson
Tucson Opinion

Tucson opinion: How climate change is harming Tucson

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

We are at a critical point — we can take bold action, now, to protect our children’s health and their future, or we can continue to kick the can of climate change down the road.

Procrastination is never a good policy. Arizona’s representatives in Congress must meet this moment and pursue bold clean transportation and infrastructure investments to protect public health, reduce the carbon pollution driving the climate crisis, ensure environmental justice, and provide family-sustaining jobs for our communities.

Here in Arizona, we are paying a heavy price for our inaction.

Tucson is the third-fastest warming city in the nation and last year even declared a “climate emergency” amid record-breaking heat and drought. Today, we are in a 21-year megadrought, which is likely to trigger shortage conditions on the Colorado River that provides Arizona with 40% of its water. Our state recently held a special session just to deal with the costs of an unprecedented wildfire season. A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now unequivocally links extreme weather events to human influence.

As a mom, I want to protect my daughter from harmful air pollution and ensure that her generation is not bankrupted by climate change. And as a policymaker, I want to encourage smart investments that will create jobs, save families money and create opportunities for growth.

Investment in clean transportation does all of this and more.

Equipped with investments to bolster clean vehicles and build out the necessary infrastructure, Arizona can drive our country forward, accelerating our transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and creating family-sustaining union jobs. As of 2019, there were 62,106 Arizonans working in clean energy, and these investments will only benefit our state’s economy.

At the start of his term, President Joe Biden outlined a plan to deliver on these investments. His proposal called for a revolution in EVs, trucks, buses and transit by building a network of 500,000 EV chargers, electrifying at least 20% of our school buses, helping consumers purchase the vehicles of tomorrow and doubling federal funding for public transit. Through the Justice40 Initiative, President Biden has already committed to aiming 40% of the benefits of these climate investments to the historically marginalized communities who have borne the brunt of pollution.

In making these investments, we will also fight the injustices that low-wealth communities and communities of color continue to face. Due to their disproportionate proximity to busy freeways and other sources of pollution, these communities experience skewed negative health outcomes. Transitioning to clean vehicles is necessary to reach a more equitable, just environment where everyone can breathe clean air.

For the many children and adults with respiratory diseases, air pollution poses an immense risk, and this problem is only growing. As extreme heat and wildfires this summer harm our air quality, Tucson has been forced to issue numerous ozone pollution advisories as air pollutants reached harmful levels. Our children deserve a better future, and to ensure this, we must decrease air pollution from the transportation sector by transitioning to pollution-free vehicles.

In Tucson, our public transit system is already leading the way, and recently added an electric transit bus with additional zero-pollution buses expected to be in service by the end of the year. Tucson and other cities need Congress’ support to deliver on the promise of a clean vehicle future for all.

The recently-passed bipartisan infrastructure deal is an important first step, helping to rebuild our nation’s roads and bridges, but it only just begins to follow through on the large-scale investments that 71 percent of the public support.

Our senators, including Tucson’s own Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, have always been supportive of climate action. As Congress prepares to debate a companion budget bill in the coming weeks, we need our senators to deliver on climate, jobs, and justice and meet this moment for all Arizonans.

Kirsten Engel is a state senator representing the 10th district in the Arizona State Legislature. She is running for Congress in District 2.


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