Washington Weekly: July 28, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
The White House and a bipartisan group of Senators announced they have hammered out the final details needed to move forward on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. A vote to proceed is expected to occur as early as this evening in the Senate.
News of progress on the Bipartisan Infrastructure package comes as Senate Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) announced her opposition to the $3.5 trillion Democrat only reconciliation package. In the 50-50 Senate, Democrats will need every vote to proceed on fulfilling much of President Biden’s agenda. Sen. Sinema signaled she would work “in good faith” to craft a reconciliation package she can support, however House progressives took to Twitter to question their support for the Bipartisan deal if there is no reconciliation bill to follow. With a three vote margin in the House, the bipartisan deal could fail if the House Progressive Caucus votes against it.
A massive “heat dome” spread over much of the country will likely result in the worst temperatures of the summer (even though we just went through a scorching June).
The sky-high daytime temperatures are alarming, but read why record-breaking overnight temperatures may be even more dangerous.
Water is a major part of state and national infrastructure proposals, from preparing our stormwater infrastructure for dangerous weather to removing toxins from our water, such as lead and PFAS chemicals. It is great to see bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation come together to pass the PFAS Action Act in the House and for Michigan members of Congress pushing for $45 billion to replace lead service lines across the country to #BuildBackBetter and #ProtectOurWater. Read this new analysis from NRDC which found that the number of lead pipes carrying water to homes in all 50 states could be about 12 million, yet most states do not track this threat.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
Climate change does not affect everyone equally. Like so many issues in our country and across the globe, the most devastating impacts of climate change disproportionately harm people of color and low income communities.
Internationally, smaller, poorer countries often pay the price for the pollution of larger, wealthier nation’s. Just one example of many comes from the Bahamas, which have been decimated by increasingly frequent and severe hurricanes over the past few years, a result of a warming climate, despite emitting a fraction of the greenhouse gases that large, wealthy nations produce.
Domestically, communities of color are hit the hardest by the consequences of climate change — a situation only made worse by the consistent and growing racial wealth gap in the U.S. and racial segregation in nearly all major U.S. cities. A recent study conducted by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago found that the poorest 5% of counties in the U.S. are expected to suffer nine times the economic damage from climate change as the wealthiest 5% of counties.
The recent, devastating flooding in Detroit brings home this reality in a stark way. Just weeks after historic rainfall led to widespread destruction of homes, businesses, and cultural institutions in mostly Black neighborhoods, Detroit again experienced massive flooding in mid-July just as many were beginning to recover. The repeated, persistent flood waters may very well be leading to a huge spike in Legionnaires disease in metro Detroit — the same disease that killed at least a dozen people during the height of the Flint water crisis.
If that weren’t enough, more flooding was caused by storms just last weekend, with four tornadoes ripping through southeast Michigan last Saturday night (it should be noted that the Thumb region experienced devastating tornadoes in late June as well). More storms, tornadoes, and flooding may be on the horizon AGAIN tonight!
Unsurprisingly, due to aging infrastructure and a sewage system designed to protect largely white suburban communities, the flooding is disproportionately impacting residents of Detroit, a city with a nearly 80% Black population. The recent floods happened, in part, because the metro Detroit sewer system collects rainwater and sewage from suburban areas first, before flowing into Detroit. During large storms, the system becomes too full to handle local sewage and rainfall, resulting in massive overflow flooding in Detroit neighborhoods. This survey shows which neighborhoods in Detroit have the most consistent flooding.
It should be noted that on July 15 the Biden administration granted Governor Whitmer’s major disaster declaration request, authorizing $180 million in federal relief funding for more than 68,000 residents and families in Metro Detroit. In another promising development, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 27, which focused on economic relief and development as Michigan communities recover from COVID-19, but also includes $10 million that will be allocated to impacted communities to help with restoration and recovery costs stemming from the flooding.
These repeated floods — and their devastating toll on residents — are a glimpse into the future if we don’t take action to mitigate climate change and make major investments in our water infrastructure, especially to reverse the history of the most vulnerable communities (which are often Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, or BIPOC, communities) bearing the brunt of these disasters.
It’s also critical to recognize that Native Americans and tribal communities in North America are also disproportionately affected by our changing climate. Many indigenous people and groups are (once again) being forced from their lands due to issues such as melting permafrost in Alaska, extreme flooding and coastal erosion in the Pacific Northwest, severe drought in the Southwest, and other climate-related issues. This familiar story is a classic and tragic tale of structural racism that dates back to the 1830s, when the federal government, at the direction of President Andrew Jackson, forced most native tribes from their homes through the Indian Removal Act and other treatises (and forced removal at marched gunpoint when they did not comply) to make room for white settlers.
The result of this forced westward movement, which continued throughout the 19th century, is that native people have had no choice but to inhabit some of the most undesirable land on the country’s margins — which are now being hit first and hardest by climate change. The federal government, to date, has done little to help. The Biden Administration has acknowledged the need to rectify this crisis in his Build Back Better Agenda, and through appointing the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history in Deb Haaland. What will ultimately get done remains to be seen.
What is encouraging in all of these tragic stories, unjust histories, and troubling trends is the strong advocacy behind climate justice. This movement is led by frontline communities and BIPOC leaders, many of whom are in Michigan, and are moving the needle toward climate justice.
President Biden has pledged to make racial justice a part of his climate and infrastructure policy, should such policy ever come to fruition. And perhaps as wealthy nations begin to experience climate disasters more regularly, the world will wake up to the truths of this unequal situation. Until then, however, climate change remains yet another racist reality in our country, and throughout the world.
A Deeper Dive
Democracy and Climate Change: In order to effectively combat climate change, the U.S. needs a healthy democracy that is accessible and representative of all Americans, especially minority communities. As Black and Brown communities are disproportionately impacted by the accelerating impacts of the climate crisis, and as we face continued attempts at voter suppression of those same communities in states across the country, including Michigan, one thing is clear: Suppressing the vote suppresses climate action. As we work to address climate change and protect our communities, we must simultaneously work to improve and protect voting rights and access to the ballot, as well as drive big corporate money and special interests (including the fossil fuel industry) out of our political system. Now more than ever, the future of our planet depends on the present health of democracy.
Resources to Learn about Justice40 and Climate Justice: The Equitable and Just Climate Platform (the LCV family is proud to be a signatory) and a White House blog on “The Path to Achieving Justice40” (and the recent White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s recommendations) are good places to get some of the latest ideas around a just transition to a clean energy future. We also recommend this new documentary focused on environmental injustice and racism from MLive.