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Driving forward for clean air, climate action in Phoenix

View of Phoenix and surrounding suburbs from South Mountain. (Wikemedia Commons)

View of Phoenix and surrounding suburbs from South Mountain. (Wikemedia Commons)

Situated in between a maze of highways and concrete, South Phoenix is subject to some of the worst air pollution not only in Maricopa County but in the nation. Our communities live with this dangerous reality every day, and one of the biggest causes of poor air quality is the transportation sector – our nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.  

All Arizonans deserve to breathe clean air, and we need a plan to fight this pollution. While we will always fight for the public interest in the Arizona legislature, we also need our federal leaders to push for solutions that will clean up our air and address climate change on a national scale. By investing in clean and zero-pollution vehicles, we can do just that, while prioritizing the health of Arizonans.  

Rebecca Rios

Rebecca Rios

In March, President Joe Biden first proposed a plan that included bold investments to expand the electric vehicle, or EV, market through tax credits and investments in charging stations and infrastructure. It also included a groundbreaking proposal to deliver 40% of the benefits from those investments to those communities historically harmed most by dangerous pollution. These are exactly the kinds of investments we need to modernize our transportation sector and expand the market for clean vehicles and school and transit buses. 

Big and bold action on clean infrastructure will benefit our economy. Over 270,000 jobs are associated with clean vehicle technologies nationwide, and electric and hybrid electric vehicle employment grew more than 6% in 2020, the biggest increase of any clean energy industry. Investing in EV infrastructure, including building out charging stations and updating the electric grid will also provide sustainable, family-supporting jobs in the auto and construction sectors, boosting our state’s growing clean energy economy in the process. 

Modernizing our transportation sector will also fight the air pollution that is suffocating Arizona’s most vulnerable communities, including those who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and asthma. Latino, Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color have historically borne the brunt of air pollution, and in our state, children of color are even exponentially more at risk for asthma than their white counterparts.  

Reginald Bolding

Reginald Bolding

Low-wealth communities and communities of color also bear the brunt of the climate crisis, which carbon pollution continues to exacerbate. As much of the western United States becomes stuck in a never-ending cycle of extreme heat, drought, and wildfires, this is impacting our communities disproportionately. A new study on extreme heat in urban communities  found that areas with higher Black, Latino, and Asian population shares and higher rates of poverty are more likely to see hotter surface land temperatures. If we fail to take steps to address pollution and reverse course, this crisis will only get worse, and Arizona could see as many as 80 dangerous heat days on average per year. 

Investing in clean vehicles and infrastructure will transform the transportation sector and is a strong step toward correcting these environmental injustices. In the Phoenix Union High School District, electric buses alone have reduced climate pollution, improved air quality, and provided lower fares for our families. In fact, a single electric bus is projected to save the city $115,000 over its lifetime on fuel and maintenance. 

This was an important step forward, and we need U.S. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly to continue supporting policies that will help grow Arizona’s electric vehicle infrastructure and expansion of our electric school and transit buses. 71% of the public supports these kinds of investments, and it is urgent that our leaders stay strong for our communities’ health and environment. 

While the previously outlined Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework may be a necessary step toward passing a major climate bill, it does not go far enough in addressing air pollution and the climate crisis. To meet this moment and make good on President Biden’s promises, Sinema and Kelly must act now to deliver for Arizona on climate, jobs, and justice. 

Rebecca Rios is the Senator for Arizona’s District 27 and currently holds the position of Senate Minority Leader. Reginald Bolding represents District 27 in the Arizona House of Representatives and is the House Minority Leader. 


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