Environmental advocates across Arizona were encouraged recently when Senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke powerfully about the challenges facing Arizona due to the climate crisis. As she told The Arizona Republic, “We know that a changing climate costs Arizonans. And right now, we have the opportunity to pass smart policies to address it.” Sinema particularly emphasized the dire costs of “[the] increasing wildfires to the severe droughts, to shrinking water levels at Lake Mead, [to] damage to critical infrastructure.”
Senator Sinema is absolutely right, but unfortunately has yet to make clear her position on the need for key policies in President Biden’s once-in-a-generation, climate-action centered Build Back Better Act. The bill makes the kind of transformational investments in clean energy, in clean transportation, and in reducing the impacts of droughts and heat waves that we must seize right now while we still have the opportunity.
Sinema’s office recently denied reports that she had called for $100 billion in cuts to climate action policies in the Build Back Better Act, but nonetheless has yet to voice support for a $150 billion climate action program that is under threat or for new climate investments that could replace it.
Just how necessary is this legislation? On June 18, 2021, the city of Phoenix recorded temperatures at a sweltering, and for many unsurvivable, 118 degrees ― a single day in what became the hottest June in the city’s history (tied with June 2020). Severe drought again devastated every state in the region and reached levels we’d never experienced. We saw the first dangerous shortages declared on the Colorado River, which supplies water for 40 million people, and are watching fires again reach unnatural intensities. We must act with urgency on a national scale. The catastrophic costs of climate inaction are orders of magnitude higher than the price of investments we can make today.
The good news is this: the Build Back Better Act’s investments in a clean energy economy will create massive opportunities across the Southwest, and in Arizona in particular.
A new study from leading clean energy research organization RMI shows that our region would see billions of dollars in new wages for construction and operation jobs from new wind and solar projects if we align with the build out needed to reach our 2030 climate goals. Importantly, projects on this scale would also generate new tax revenue, to the tune of over $3.5 billion for our cities and municipalities. The Seidman Institute at ASU just released an analysis showing the Build Back Better infrastructure plan would result in 99,160 more jobs in Arizona per year, on average, over its ten years of projected investment.
The political and the climate reality makes it clear: This is our moment. So, we are once again urging Senator Sinema to finally make her position on key provisions of this legislation clear. At a certain point, silence becomes assent, and if Sinema is unwilling to publicly defend the urgent climate action Arizonans so desperately need, it would be deeply concerning.
Senator Sinema: please do everything you can to fully fund and pass the bold climate action policies we need in this bill as swiftly as possible.
Sandy Bahr is director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.