U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

September 25, 2021

Charging Against Climate Change 

September 25, 2021

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

This week I stepped on the gas pedal in a hybrid Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, one of several electric vehicles U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown and I had the opportunity to test drive at a public event in New Carrolton – and felt real acceleration.

The engine was plenty burly and surprisingly quick. If you like instant torque, you will love the next generation of electric vehicles. And EVs are delivering forward momentum in more ways than one. An accelerated shift to zero-emission vehicles is part of how we take on climate change and avoid the worst of its impacts on future generations.

With transportation the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, electric vehicles are an important part of a clean economy future. And just as we need new and improved (read: safer) ways to get around, we need a modern network of charging stations and a resilient energy grid to support them.

That’s why Congress has been working to make a generational commitment to improving our nation’s infrastructure, with important new policies for reducing carbon pollution, building resilience, and accelerating the transition to cleaner vehicles.

Let’s be clear: we now live in a world shaped by the reality of climate change, and delaying comprehensive action is no longer an option. According to a newly released United Nations report, the global average temperature will rise 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 Fahrenheit) by century’s end if countries do not make more ambitious emissions cuts — an increase that will worsen the wildfires, droughts and floods we are seeing today across the United States.

Not mincing words, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said it shows “the world is on a catastrophic pathway.” He also warned that these changes are just the beginning of worse to come. “Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, we will be unable to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). The consequences will be catastrophic.”

They already are. As National Public Radio (NPR) reports, “All around us, we’re seeing the effects of climate change. Wildfires are raging through the West. Much of southeast Louisiana was flattened by Hurricane Ida, and parts of New York and New Jersey are digging out from disastrous flooding. And if it seems like natural disasters are getting more severe and more frequent, that’s because they are. Climate change has helped drive a fivefold increase in the number of weather-related disasters in the last 50 years. Climate change means disasters are happening simultaneously, too.”

In addition to extreme weather events, slow onset events also are causing damage right here in Maryland. Jellyfish, one of the big winners when waters rise in temperature and salinity, are clogging the Chesapeake and coastal bays, which are already suffering from rising sea levels at levels twice the global average over the last century.

Models predict that the two feet of sea level rise forecast by 2050 would put most of southern Dorchester County underwater, threatening vulnerable communities particularly at risk to flooding.

It’s clear we must significantly reduce our impacts on the climate while simultaneously building resilience to the changes already unfolding. In 2017, I requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examine opportunities for the federal government to improve its effectiveness in incorporating climate resiliency planning in our transportation infrastructure. This week, the GAO released its findings with a clear message that improving the climate resiliency of federally funded highway projects can reduce fiscal risk for federal and state governments. 

With the federal government poised to make major, long-term investments in transportation infrastructure, ensuring that legislation also will advance strong climate policy is a matter of moral and fiscal responsibility.

As part of his Build Back Better plan, President Biden has called for a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, carbon pollution-free power production by 2035, and net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050.

Through both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Budget Resolution, we will be able to reduce emissions in the U.S. to almost 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, nearing our new national goal. This target aligns with what we know will improve Marylanders’ lives.

I helped ensure the bipartisan infrastructure agreement dedicates $18 billion dollars to emissions reductions and resilience in the transportation sector. This framework serves as a significant first step in funding a whole-of-government response to climate change and environmental justice.

The Budget Resolution presents the second step – and greatest-ever investment in federal climate polices. These major programs proposed by President Biden include tax incentives for clean energy and clean vehicles, a clean electricity payment program, and a Civilian Climate Corps that will each create green jobs, reduce emissions and improve public health.

This is the type of visionary leadership our country needs – and needs to provide to the world. 

For this reason, I was excited this week to hear that during his first address to the U.N., President Biden announced that the U.S. would more than quadruple our financial commitment to help developing countries respond to climate change. This can begin to reposition the U.S. as a world leader on the issue.

These are important steps. However, they represent a beginning, and not an end point, we still have a long way to go.

Newly released polling data illustrates that public sentiment regarding the urgency of climate change in the U.S. lags far behind other parts of the developed world.

We have little choice but to overcome this intransigence, if we are to make a measurable difference, and repair our world for future generations.

As always, I appreciate you and your time. Please stay safe. Wear a mask when appropriate. And get vaccinated if you have not done so already.

Your friend,

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Ben Cardin