Commentary

A new day for climate action in Colorado and the U.S.

Lawmakers must work to end the inequities and legacy of environmental injustice

March 20, 2021 5:00 am

The Thompson Divide is a 200,000-acre area within Colorado’s White River National Forest. (Courtesy of EcoFlight)

Here in Colorado and across the United States, a new day for climate action is finally here.

With President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we have an administration that not only believes in the power of government to help people, but one that understands science matters when developing public health protections and recognizes the importance of putting people over polluters. Beginning on day one, the Biden-Harris administration started delivering on this promise with a series of executive orders around climate change. This has since included rejoining the Paris Agreement to ensure the United States will meet its global commitment to address climate change, issuing a pause on all new oil and gas leasing on public lands, and prioritizing environmental justice across all federal agencies.

In his inaugural address, Biden even urged our nation to come together to fight “a raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis.” The climate crisis has hit Colorado particularly hard, and our communities cannot “build back better” if we do not address it thoroughly and effectively.

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Colorado is already experiencing the detrimental impacts of climate change. Deadly wildfires, like other extreme weather events, are made more frequent and severe by carbon pollution. In example, the Pine Gulch Fire tore through our public lands and communities last year, burning over 139,000 acres, which made it the largest fire in Colorado’s recorded history. Our state is now experiencing once-in-50-years “exceptional droughts” on a regular basis, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Climate change is even impacting our state’s agricultural industry, with peach farmers losing almost 90% of their crops last summer.

The urgency to address the climate crisis could not be greater. Our air quality is rapidly deteriorating after decades of progress in the fight for clean air, owing to wildfires intensified by climate change and staggering pollution from unchecked corporations. As we continue to battle a public health crisis linked to respiratory health, we must clean up our air by taking action on climate, especially for those communities in our state that continue to bear the brunt of rampant pollution and the climate crisis.

The Biden-Harris administration is charting a course for the next four years, and Biden must deliver on his promise to build back better by investing in those hit the hardest by all these crises. Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities in Colorado have faced disproportionate death, sickness, and economic loss from COVID-19 and the climate crisis. To truly build back better for all in this country, every community must have a voice in planning for the livable future we are to share.

Michael Regan, President Joe Biden’s EPA administrator, testified before the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee in February 2021.

Now it is critical that our leaders in Congress, including Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, join the Biden administration in taking climate action. We must do so by pursuing common-sense, durable, and equitable solutions to fight the climate crisis, while protecting clean air, water, and public lands for all.

With the historic confirmation of Michael Regan to be U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Deb Haaland as Interior secretary, we are beginning to see climate-forward leaders heading our federal agencies once again. And while it is equally uplifting to see that Bennet and Hickenlooper supported Regan’s confirmation, they must continue to support other climate changemakers to help lead federal agencies, like Janet McCabe as deputy EPA administrator and Brenda Mallory as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Congress’ role in fighting the climate crisis doesn’t stop there. Our representatives in Washington must work to end the inequities and legacy of environmental injustice that are embedded in policies that impact communities of color. Central to that is planning for a 100% clean economy that provides good jobs and clean energy for all communities, including those which have been disproportionately impacted by decades of pollution.

Coloradans have already committed to taking on many of the challenges presented by climate change. Now, Congress must follow the lead of President Biden as we embark on this historic endeavor.

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Ean Thomas Tafoya
Ean Thomas Tafoya

Ean Thomas Tafoya is the Colorado state director for GreenLatinos. He is a candidate for Denver mayor.

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