State and local elected officials fight for action

October 3, 2020

By Christopher Douglass

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics has warned that, “states and local governments are going to have to curtail spending very quickly,” unless funding arrives soon from the federal government. Zandi stated that “it’s vitally important” that Congress enacts a second stimulus package and that funding for state and local governments should be on the “top of that list.” Without a stimulus Zandi thinks, “the odds of a double-dip recession are high.” The stakes are only going to increase as state and local governments strain under increasing pressure of mounting debts and limited funds. 

Moody’s report found that state and local governments are reaching a critical breaking point. Forty-two states will “need to fill budget gaps of 5-percent or more; 34 states would need to fill gaps of 10 percent or more.” 

“Without Congressional action, Americans from all walks of life will suffer from cuts to public safety, education, human services and environmental safety,” said New Mexican State Representative Debbie Sariñana, Air Force Veteran. 

Some of these essential people include healthcare workers, firefighters, police officers, educators, and sanitation workers. All of these critical sectors have been at the forefront of the battle against Covid-19. 

One of the most vital foundations of democracy, a well educated public, is under increasing pressure as schools lack the resources needed to teach and engage children. Nearly every day brings new reports of schools closing, going remote, or having outbreaks. Educators are working overtime to create lesson plans for all possible eventualities, but a lack of funding limits their effectiveness. 

“I teach science, our school system has been hit hard with expenses related to the pandemic and learning remotely. As a veteran, we never hesitate getting needed supplies and services to our people. Our nation has the capacity to do what’s needed,” added Rep. Sariñana. “Congress has to enact a stimulus that supports state and local governments as well as one that will grow a clean energy economy, with job training and employment.”

Fortunately, solutions from recent history provide a framework for building back with a resilient economy. Back in 2009 President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) proved to be the stimulus plan needed to end the Great Recession. The ARRA package included specific funding for state governments, which all 50 states accepted. Importantly, the ARRA included $90 billion in clean energy investments and tax incentives. A national stimulus plan that prioritizes giving state and local governments the resources necessary to serve their citizens will allow America to recover from the deepening recession caused by COVID-19. Once again, significant investment in states and the fast-growing clean energy sector will be needed. 

“As elected officials we know how important federal funding is to keep state and local governments working. All this was caused by the pandemic. State’s have to balance budgets, the federal government doesn’t. It’s there to help out, especially in times of need. Congress should view this as an 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, Army Veteran (Ret).

Using the ARRA as a starting point, Congress should add to it — ensuring America will run on 100 percent clean, renewable 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 be used. Additionally, the Select Senate Committee on the Climate Crisis (SSCCC) put it’s comprehensive proposal forward to build a strong economy and protect our health. 

“If there’s anything we’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that our national leaders need to heed the warnings from scientists and public health experts. Similar experts sounded the alarm about the climate crisis and the Senate Select Committee on the Climate Crisis listened, said Alex Cornell du Houx, a former Maine state lawmaker, Marine combat veteran, and President of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA). “The SSCCC released a roadmap for how to build a clean energy economy that values workers and creates jobs, advances economic and environmental justice, and meets the challenges of the climate crisisIt’s a clear, concise practical way forward. First and foremost, Elected Officials to Protect America urges Congress to enact a stimulus that will keep states out of bankruptcy, protect the jobs of essential workers, and ensure our health is protected through clean energy investments.”

Investing in state governments is also a prudent financial decision. According to Zandi “assistance to state and local governments has a 1.34 multiplier, meaning the federal government gets back $1.34 for every $1 in funds sent to states.

Another advisable investment is in the clean energy sector.

“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. “After Congress funds state and local governments, they need to promote clean energy in the stimulus package that provides jobs for those hardest hit economically by COVID-19.”

International leaders have similarly voiced the need for renewable energy investments. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged leaders not to “throw away” economic stimulus funds on fossil fuels. Guterres did not mince his words. “We can either throw away money on the fossil fuels of the past. That is the road to more pollution, or we can invest in the technologies of the future, renewable energy, nature-based solutions, sustainable transport and green technologies . . . only one of these paths is rational.”

State and local leaders on both sides of the aisle have likewise expressed concerns that investment in renewable energy cannot wait any longer.

The sunset in Maine turned hauntingly beautiful when smoke from the west coast fires, caused by climate change reached the state.

Seven Republican senators on July 23 sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urging him to consider policies in future COVID-19 relief and recovery proposals that will bolster the clean energy sector. It calls for McConnell to consider policies that would boost “jobs and innovation” with renewables, carbon capture, energy efficiency, transportation and other measures, making the case that it is “fiscally prudent” to do so. 

Not only have policymakers and world leaders called for a focus on renewable energy in stimulus spending, expert economists have decried the current economic system which relies on fossil fuels. Over 100 highly respected economists published their letter in the Guardian saying the carbon economy amplifies racial, social and economic inequities, creating a system that is fundamentally incompatible with a stable future, thereby they conclude that we must end the carbon economy.

“It’s time America stepped up to lead. People around the world are hungry for hope — hope for a future where their children can eat without want, breathe clean air, drink clean water and enjoy nature. Basic needs many of us have overlooked in our own country. COVID-19 has given us a chance to see where the U.S.A. is inadequate as well. We can right these wrongs, starting with a clean energy stimulus,” said Rep. Sariñana.  

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. The field is growing, but in order for clean energy to have the ability to replace fossil fuels, it needs a stimulus.

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. In benefiting environmentally friendly sectors, their economy will begin to bounce back post pandemic. 

A study from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) found that “clean-energy investments generate roughly three times more jobs than an equivalent amount of money spent on carbon-based fuels.” 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. 

Even our own government agrees. “Managing Climate Risk in the Financial System,” a report commissioned by federal regulators overseeing the nation’s commodities markets concluded that climate change threatens U.S. financial markets, as the costs of wildfires, droughts, storms, and floods spread through pension funds, insurance and mortgage markets, and other financial institutions. “A world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system,” concluded the report which was requested last year by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Massive job creation will more than make up for the job losses that will come from divesting from fossil fuels. Solutions are already on the table to aid those losing their jobs in fossil fuels. Senator Tammy Duckworth (IL) has introduced a bill to ensure former coal workers can keep a roof over their heads, health insurance, and educate themselves and their family. Oil and gas workers can also transfer to high paying jobs in clean energy. At Lake Region State College, in Devils Lake, North Dakota, former oil workers are being trained for new careers maintaining giant wind turbines. 

Environmental Defense Fund Senior Vice President of Political Affairs Elizabeth Gore, praised the Senate climate report released in late August for recommending investment in green jobs and environmental justice. “The Special Committee report shows how we can spur economic growth, cut air pollution and address the climate crisis by embracing our clean energy future. We are particularly pleased to see the committee is calling for ‘at least 2 percent of GDP to be spent on climate action annually’ – and for ‘at least 40 percent of the benefits from these investments to help communities of color and low-income, deindustrialized and other disadvantaged communities.’”

More recently, on September 17 Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Chair of the Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced the Future Generations Protection Act. This bill would help ensure a rapid shift to clean renewable energy by stopping further expansion of fracking and new fossil fuel infrastructure.

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. Inaction is not an option; in order to thrive we must grow and adapt to change.

Without global efforts toward a reliance on clean energy, the world is on track for devastating climate disruption. Coronavirus has provided an opportunity to invest in a future that will keep us healthy and allow Americans to prosper now and for generations to come. COVID-19 is the beginning; more pandemics will follow if climate destruction is not addressed.  

Our inability to take action against climate change directly threatens our lives and our humanity.

As long as climate change continues unabated the services of health care workers 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 are calling for the implementation of a clean stimulus package.

“Before this devastating fire season our region was ranked number1 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 now,” said Culver City Councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells (CA). “We are on the front lines of the climate emergency. This is not a drill. Lives are being lost; families uprooted and businesses destroyed. We can’t afford to wait while the most polluting and destructive industries put our communities in harm’s way. It’s time Congress invested in the American people, and divested from supporting the fossil fuel industry.”

The recent wildfires have only compounded the air quality crisis, making COVID-19, a respiratory virus more deadly. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the transportation sector is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Investments in clean energy will create a more equitable and just society through reduction in pollution. “Transportation is a leading source of harmful air pollution in the United States. It represents half of the total ozone as well as nitrogen oxide emissions,” according to Dr. Meredith McCormack, medical director of the Johns Hopkins University Pulmonary Function Laboratory.”

Implementing a post-coronavirus clean stimulus package will move us forward. It is the necessary step we have to take to avert future pandemics, natural disasters, and tackle systemic inequalities. 

Assemblyman Ortiz added, “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.”