September 28, 2022

By Hank Greenberg

For many people growing up snow days off from school were a regular part of their childhood winters. Yet, young Californian leaders Alex Walker-Griffin and Andrew Lewis never had this experience. Instead, their days off came from “fire days” when either poor air quality conditions or massive wildfires made it impossible to carry out daily life as normal. Lewis even described a time when there were fires ablaze on both sides of a major California highway near his home. This twitter feed shows that reality:

The seriousness and severity of the impending climate change crisis has clearly caught the attention of our state and local elected officials. On September 28, 2022, four of them gathered together from across the nation to discuss the past, present, and future of clean vehicles in America. The panel discussion was presented by Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA).

The panelists included William Haskell is an Obama-endorsed State Senator from Connecticut. Gary Schlack is a Councilmember from Allen Park, Michigan. Alex Walker-Griffin is the Vice Mayor of Hercules, California. Andrew Lewis is a Councilmember in North Westwood, California. The discussion was moderated by EOPA’s President Alex Cornell du Houx. You can watch the full discussion here:

Past: We cannot let this opportunity slip by 

In his opening remarks, Lewis said “this Zoom call should have happened many years ago.” This sentiment was echoed by the rest of the panel. 

Schlack noted that his hometown of Allen Park was Henry Ford’s “second favorite city” because of all the electrified trains and rail there. Ford was going to work to incorporate more electric transportation back in the 1930s, but the Great Depression permanently derailed those plans.

Cornell du Houx recalled his service in Fallujah when he saw people in very long lines trying to get oil. They put themselves in harm’s way because they were reliant on this single fuel source. In this moment, he realized how important clean energy was to both the protection of the world and the protection of the United States.

Reminders of the effects of climate change are scattered throughout our history, but they have been routinely ignored. Now, the need for action on climate is more urgent than ever before.

Present: 2022 is a good year for federal environmental legislation— 

Cornell du Houx opened the discussion by heralding the recent accomplishments of the Biden administration. Haskell believes that when looking back historically, President Biden will be remembered for taking serious strides in moving green legislation forward. 

The latest federal policy is notable because it all works in conjunction together. The CHIPS and Science Act makes it possible for American manufacturers to profitably build electric vehicles at home. The Inflation Reduction Act introduces rebates for buying cars made in America. Buying a new American car will provide customers with seventy-five hundred dollars back; buying a used American car will provide customers with four thousands dollars back.

Finally, last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act commissioned the construction of half of a million new charging electric vehicle stations along the interstates of America. Soon, there will be a charging station at least every fifty miles. Haskell said this significant investment in infrastructure is reminiscent of the Eisenhower administration, which actually built the highways. 

Haskell also stated his personal belief that a goal of having an entirely electric fleet of vehicles does not make sense unless it is both affordable and sensible. In his opinion, the new federal laws cover both stipulations. Walker-Griffin reiterated that affordability was important. 

Future: A lot more has to be done to mitigate climate change 

A common goal shared between these environmentally-minded leaders is to make clean vehicles the standard in America. Over 600 of these elected officials signed a letter to President Biden stating as much.

Cornell du Houx and Walker-Griffin saw both California as a national leader. The golden state stands out because of their recent commitment to ensure that all new cars will be electric or plug-in hybrids by 2035. Cornell du Houx believes that as “the fifth largest economy in the world,” California’s massive need for electric vehicles will send a signal to the whole industry showing what demand is going to be like in the future.

Walker-Griffin noted that one can already detect the difference in air quality between California and states like Utah that lag behind in terms of environmental legislation. He said “the very first thing I saw when I landed in Utah was thick smog.” 

Haskell thinks more governments should develop “carbon budgets” for any future infrastructure projects. This means that if a government feels an absolute need to invest in a project that will increase carbon dioxide emissions, they must also invest in an equal project that will offset any new damages. This system has been successfully implemented in Colorado, but could be expanded nationally.

Transitioning to electric vehicles is just one step in the large collective fight against climate change.

During Climate Week in New York City various EV cars were on display.