By Maegan Brejnik

The lack of normalcy has resulted in COVID-19 taking a toll on the economy. To help recover from this deepening recession evidence points to the necessity for Congress to adopt a national stimulus plan aimed at building back the economy on the basis of clean energy. There is precedent. President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 proved to be the stimulus plan needed to end the Great Recession. The ARRA package included $90 billion in clean energy investments and tax incentives.

A coalition of elected officials from across America, the Elected Officials to Protect America, has been urging Congress to enact a clean energy stimulus that will create millions of jobs while combating climate change and reclaiming our position as global leader. EOPA’s recommendation is to use the ARRA as a starting point, in order to ensure America runs on 100 percent clean energy. Many of the  policy recommendations proposed in the recent Congressional Report, Solving the Climate Crisis, that build a clean energy economy which values workers, righting the wrongs of environmental justice, should also be used.

“At this moment we have an historic opportunity. Together we can rebuild, revitalize, and restructure our economy in a manner that puts people before profit—that rewards work rather than wealth—an inclusive, sustainable economy worthy of our ideals,said Oregon State Representative Major Paul L. Evans USAF (Ret.), EOPA Co-Chair. “We must start with a clean energy stimulus package that provides jobs for those hardest hit economically by COVID-19.”

As millions of people continue to face the effects of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown, we have been provided the rare opportunity to see the direct impact of our presence and our absence on the environment. Our social isolation has resulted in an improvement in air quality, cleaner beaches, and a decrease in environmental noise level

Los Angeles, a city known for its nightlife and smog, saw its longest streak of clear skies in decades. Coronavirus has demonstrated the clear effects of our daily actions. In order to maintain these healthier living conditions, these daily changes must be regarded as a template for future actions. 

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Los Angeles before and after the COVID019 lockdown

“It’s hard to convey what I felt seeing a crystal clear LA skyline. It put things into perspective and made me more determined to continue to work to keep it that way,” said Former Culver City Mayor, and current council member  Meghan Sahli-Wells, Elected Officials to Protect California Co-chair. “Recently, our region was ranked #1 for the worst air quality in the nation for ozone pollution by the American Lung Association. We need Congress to provide a clean energy stimulus that will transition us completely to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

A recent study found that daily global carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by about 17 percent as a result of the lockdowns, with 43 percent of that decrease coming from reduced transportation from cars, buses, and trucks. Air pollution is a large source of respiratory illnesses, responsible for nearly 40 percent of lower respiratory tract infections. Coronavirus, a respiratory illness, is made more deadly by our carbon dioxide emissions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the transportation sector is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Scientifically we know it is imperative that we encourage the growth of clean energy. Extreme weather conditions worldwide point to climate change caused by human activity as the culprit. The question remains: how do we strike a better balance between our lives and the environment? The health of the planet directly affects our own. Unless immediate action is taken, the post-coronavirus world will leave us in an even worse position to address our climate emergency. 

Oregon State Rep.Major Evans USAF (Ret.), said we must take advantage of this opportunity and rebuild our lives and the economy by transitioning to 100 percent clean renewable energy with a new nationwide plan of action, in the form of a stimulus package

“Now is the moment for all of us in the public arena to work in common cause,” said Oregon State Rep. Major Evans USAF (Ret.). “American history shows we have been the catalyst for positive globe change before when we led the world out of the Great Depression. The United States must take advantage of this opportunity and act on a comprehensive clean energy stimulus plan.”

On June 3, 2020, Germany released their green stimulus package. This $145 billion plan aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and provide the support that clean energy sectors need to grow. It is their intent that, in benefiting environmentally friendly sectors, their economy will begin to bounce back post pandemic.  

It’s not just Germany. The European Union is preparing to announce a similar plan: a green recovery package to curb pollution and boost the economy. This is widely acknowledged to be the next necessary step in coronavirus recovery. The United States -could follow the lead set by Europe and act on a plan to boost our renewable energy sectors. 

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, voiced strong support for a post coronavirus stimulus plan, saying, “A global stimulus package of unprecedented proportions will … be needed to restore sustainable growth and safeguard peoples livelihoods.” European countries, along with the United States, have the opportunity to lead by example to benefit the planet.

Clean energy has the potential to greatly serve the national and global economy in the near future. In 2018, renewable energy employment accounted for 4.2 percent of all jobs added nationally, and that same year the industry’s employment grew 3.6 percent. Additionally, a 2010 study found that clean energy creates more jobs per unit energy than the coal and natural gas industries. With a stimulus, the field could continue to grow.

According to the World Meteorological Association, global temperatures have already increased 1.1oC above pre industrial levels. Without global moves towards a reliance on clean energy, the world is on track for devastating climate disruption. Coronavirus has provided an opportunity, but simply self isolating cannot solve this problem. COVID-19 is the beginning; more pandemics will follow if climate destruction is not addressed.  

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Our health care workers are already facing intense pressure, and as long as climate degradation continues unabated, the need of their services will only continue to rise. In June, 40 million health care workers signed an open letter to the G20 leaders urging them to implement a green recovery from COVID-19. This group, which makes up about half of the global medical workforce, placed a heavy emphasis on air pollution, which causes 7 million premature deaths around the world each year. We need to heed the warning of millions of medical professionals who stand with the implementation of a clean stimulus package.

What benefits the economy can also benefit the environment. With a stimulus plan focused on clean energy, more jobs will be created compared to allocating the same amount of funds to the fossil fuel industry. For every $1 million invested in renewable energy, roughly three times as many jobs are created than if the same money was invested in fossil fuels. This massive job creation more than makes up for the job losses that will come from divesting from fossil fuels.Furthermore, moving from fossil fuels to clean energy could boost global GDP by 2.5 percent by 2050, whereas climate damages will continue to cause economic losses. 

“We can’t miss this opportunity to build a more sustainable inclusive economy, which will be as resilient as it will be equitable,”  said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member. “Congress must take action with a clean energy stimulus for the future of our nation, and the world. If the people of New York State could come together in common purpose to fight COVID-19 – Congress can surely unite for America.”

The United States can make great change happen, if our Congressional leaders are brave enough to meet the challenge.

The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.