Column: Biden’s Dearborn visit shows the need to tackle environmental injustices

June 24, 2021 6:19 am

Monument to Joe Louis, Detroit | Susan J. Demas

Last month, President Joe Biden visited the Ford facility in Dearborn ahead of the release of the entirely pollution-free F-150 Lightning, which serves as an opportunity to take stock of what his presidency so far has meant for Michigan.

The new administration has already taken bold leaps to get us back on track with climate action and leadership, as well as addressing environmental injustices. However, there remains much to do to face down these monumental issues.

As he took office, Biden nominated a roster of climate change makers to key Cabinet positions, all of whom have received confirmation from the Senate. A number of these leaders have career-long histories of working towards environmental justice — most notably  Michael Regan, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the first Black man to take on the role.

An early executive order established the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which will work across the administration to center the goal of equity with respect to climate action. I work with this council, and am eager to work with other passionate leaders from around the country to set a course that brings us closer to environmental justice. And the American Jobs Plan, Biden’s $2 trillion proposal tackling both economic revitalization and climate action, promises that at least 40% of the benefits of investments will be targeted to the communities which have borne the brunt of the climate crisis.

Here in Michigan, the twin crises of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic have wreaked havoc on our economy and public health in equal measure — and the harms of both have been unevenly distributed.

The Black community, and other marginalized communities that have been hit hardest, are underrepresented in the halls of government, but overrepresented when it comes to COVID-19 deaths and the financial damages of the pandemic and the climate crisis. Extreme flooding and heat waves are becoming the new normal in our state, and rising temperatures are taking a toll on agriculture, impacting workers across the state. From 2010 to 2020, Michigan experienced 19 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $5 billion in damages.

The American Jobs Plan promises huge investments in revitalizing our economy and providing family-supporting union jobs by jumpstarting the clean energy industry. In a state that’s historically been a manufacturing hub for the entire nation, that could have an enormous payoff. Prior to the pandemic, clean energy jobs were growing 70% faster nationally than the economy as a whole — but declined here in Michigan by 17.5% due to the pandemic.

We could not only get back the jobs that were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, we could provide employment and a sustainable income to every worker who needs it. The American Jobs Plan invests $174 billion into jumpstarting the electric vehicle economy, and $300 into retrofitting and revitalizing factories. This will play a huge role in generating the technology that will help Americans do their part to combat the climate crisis, with electric vehicles like the F-150 Lightning and beyond.

As Biden continues fighting for his Build Back Better agenda, we now need Congress to get to work. 86% of Michiganders support funding research into clean energy sources like wind and solar, and it’s imperative that Congress take their cue from the constituents who elected them. This is a team effort, and every single elected official working at the national level must act on climate, jobs and justice.

I look forward to amplifying my community’s voice as we work together with Congress to take the lead on pandemic recovery, and begin to implement Biden’s ambitious vision for climate action. The harms of climate change are abundantly clear to many in our state, and Michigan must have a presence and a voice in the solutions.

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Donele Wilkins
Donele Wilkins

Donele Wilkins is the founder and CEO of the Green Door Initiative. Wilkins has been fighting for environmental justice and sustainability in her hometown of Detroit for nearly 20 years.