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July 17, 2020

Environmental Leaders Participate in Rep. Trone’s Panel Discussion on Climate Change

Credit: Sierra Club Maryland Chapter

Congressman David Trone hosted a “Discussion on Confronting the Climate Crisis” Thursday with special guest Chairwoman Kathy Castor (FL-14), Chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Josh Tulkin, the Director of Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Ramon Palencia-Calvo, the Deputy Director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and Kerene Tayloe, the Director of Federal Legislative Affairs for WE ACT for Environmental Justice.

Congressman Trone asserted, “There is no issue in America that is more important to the long-term survival of the next generations than us beginning to get it right on climate crisis. Unfortunately with COVID and economic collapse, and so much happening, this issue has slid off to the side. But we’ve got to bring it back to the center. We’ve got to drive our focus on it. We have to be unrelenting, because this is on us. If we don’t move and begin to fix the climate crisis, future generations will pay a very dire price.”

There is no issue in America that is more important to the long-term survival of the next generations than us beginning to get it right on climate crisis. Unfortunately with COVID and economic collapse, and so much happening, this issue has slid off to the side. But we’ve got to bring it back to the center.

– Rep. David Trone

Chairwoman Castor from Tampa, FL opened speaking about the new class of congresspeople during the last election that spurred ambitious action on climate, including listening to youth leaders like Greta Thunberg and scientists and developing a Solving the Climate Crisis Action Plan for the Congress. The recently released report recommends a transition to 100% clean electricity by 2040 and 100% net zero electric vehicles by 2035, among others, and all recommendations are built upon a foundation of environmental justice and fair labor standards for workers.

Castor noted, “Each of your organizations was instrumental in helping us craft these policies,” and called the panelist organizations “vital voices in the climate movement.”

Rep. Trone wanted to know, how do we get this done? Castor replied that we need to hammer out the recommendations into bills and then move as quickly as possible. She asked for help from people of different areas of interest to support them and also build bipartisan coalitions. “We don’t have time to waste. We’ve got to listen to the scientists and act with urgency.” She also later talked about the importance of “build back better” and “green stimulus” and expressed dismay at the over 100+ bedrock environmental protections rolled back by the Trump Administration, including moves yesterday to gut the National Environmental Policy Act. Trone noted the need around the country to help vote in new members of the Senate to give an open window for the important changes needed ahead.

We don’t have time to waste. We’ve got to listen to the scientists and act with urgency.

– Rep. Kathy Castor

Maryland Sierra Club Director Josh Tulkin, leader of the state chapter of the nation’s oldest largest, grass roots environmental organizations, also provided an insight about how to get things done. He said it was important to educate people about what climate change will mean for them and their community. Maryland is among the states most vulnerable to climate change, and Tulkin suggested “we should see fighting climate change not as a sacrifice but as an investment in our economy and an investment in the types of policies that will better serve our community.” In relation to climate action, he emphasized the need for a passionate and active population, the need  for a clear goal, and the need to build a broad movement with confidence in the goal so we can go out, organize, and mobilize the public. 

Palencia-Calvo represented the nonpartisan statewide League of Conservation Voters and its program Chispa Maryland, which works with Latino communities to ensure they are engaged in the political process and have a strong voice in protecting the environment and their health. He identified electing pro-environment candidates as a key to protect the climate. Connected to that, he highlighted the importance of educating and activating voters, including making sure those communities overburdened by pollution and environmental injustices have a strong voice and are part of the solution, that they can have meaningful participation and be part of the process that places equity and justice at the center of any climate solution.

Kerene Tayloe, Director of Federal Legislative Affairs for WE ACT for Environmental Justice, emphasized:

“In the United States, environmental justice communities are living with the effects of decades of inadequate public and private investments, and the legacy of policy choices rooted unfortunately in racism. Communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal and indigenous communities are disproportionately burdened and are harmed by exposures to air and water pollution. And these communities are also even more vulnerable to climate change, which is exacerbated by existing economic inequities that make it harder to prepare for and harder to recover from extreme weather.”

Communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal and indigenous communities are disproportionately burdened and are harmed by exposures to air and water pollution. And these communities are also even more vulnerable to climate change.

– Kerene Tayloe

Environmental justice communities also live closer to polluting facilities. Said Tayloe, “Race is still the biggest indicator of where our most harmful facilities are.” To address the climate crisis and legacies of pollution, she pointed to the need to mitigate these problems by smart permitting, looking at the cumulative effects of these facilities, and meaningful engagement of the communities in decision-making. She indicated that the idea of a Climate Resiliency Corps outlined in the climate crisis action plan also held promise for addressing environmental inequities and climate change.

The dynamic question and answer session included questions on carbon pricing, solar energy, alternate energy, Potomac and Chesapeake restoration, and “Are climate change activists forging alliances with the Black Lives Matter movement?” Tayloe’s replied,

“I would say ‘yes.’ … We are actually incredibly excited about the increased awareness that has moved beyond … to everyone. We’re seeing Black, white, Latino, Asian people all wanting to move and act for Black lives. We think effective ways to do that are to address air quality in our community, the lack of clean water, all of that is connected … People of color are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality. That not only leads to high rates of asthma, but now we’re seeing high rates of Black and brown people impacted by COVID-19 … connected to the large amounts of particulate matter in our air and the lack of investments in terms of the quality of environmental care for our community. …

If we are really to address and uplift Black lives, we must also ensure that our communities are healthy, that we have green space.  Our environment is … where we work, live, play, pray and go to school. And those places must be safe to ensure that everyone can have access to not only the American dream but be able to be productive contributors to our society.”

Tulkin agreed saying “Addressing racism and addressing environmental injustice are intrinsically connected.” He also spoke about a principle-based approach to addressing environmental issues wherein equity and racial justice are essential considerations.

The event closed with a viewer question on “what can we do?” and reaffirmation by Castor that “This is an all-hands-on-desk moment.” There is so much work to do, she said, including at the federal level re-invigorating our alliances and the Peace Corps, Fullbright, and USAID to help reduce carbon pollution. Other ideas from the panelists included: reduce energy consumption, reduce vehicle miles traveled, volunteer with like-minded groups, work on local issues and in coalitions, support elected officials advocating climate action and clean energy jobs, learn more about environmental justice, push the less privileged to the front to be heard, think about and respect each other, and keep climate in the forefront of decisions and elections. Palencia-Calvo stressed “We’ve got to be active. And we’ve got be active also in the voting booth.”

Click here for the full webinar.