Opinion: Georgia’s congressional delegation should give healthy push for electric cars

August 2, 2021 1:00 am

Democratic state Rep. Teri Anulewicz says in a guest column that Congress should create policies to speed a transition from gas-powered vehicles to plug-ins. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

As the summer proceeds in Georgia and we continue to tally an increasing number of days with air quality alerts, many Georgians are already familiar with the consequences of air pollution. In our state, 9% of children suffer from asthma – well above the national average. Annually, the total cost of asthma-related hospitalizations for Georgia’s children totals $37.4 million.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this costly and dangerous problem that can help us not only provide clean air for our children but also tackle the climate crisis that threatens their futures. To achieve these goals, though, we must make bold investments in the transition to clean energy, beginning with pollution-free transportation. While Congress has taken the important first step of investing in our nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems, we need our leaders to now go bigger and bolder by crafting a bill that tackles the full scale of the climate crisis and delivers on jobs and justice for all communities.

All Georgians deserve clean air. While my colleagues and I make strides to achieve this goal in the state Legislature, we must also acknowledge that air pollution is a national problem that requires bold solutions. Our representatives in Congress must pursue historic clean transportation, energy, and infrastructure investments to make good on the promises that President Joe Biden outlined at the start of his presidency. Only then can we hope to achieve a status quo where we protect public health, reduce the carbon pollution that drives the climate crisis, ensure environmental justice, and provide clean energy jobs in Georgia – and across the United States.

The untapped potential for jobs in Georgia alone is motivation enough to strive to make big investments towards electric vehicle and battery storage development. Prior to the pandemic, clean energy jobs were growing 70% faster nationally than the economy as a whole, and currently, about 274,000 jobs are associated with clean vehicle technologies. With investments to retool and revitalize factories and build out the infrastructure that will underlie the coming clean vehicle revolution, Georgia can capitalize on this burgeoning industry and provide family-sustaining union jobs to a growing workforce of manufacturers, construction workers, and engineers.

The transition to clean vehicles is also an equity and justice issue. Low-wealth communities and communities of color are disproportionately likely to live by freeways and major shipping channels, resulting in neighborhoods where exposure to air pollution is much higher. Focusing efforts on transitioning not only to electric cars, but to electric buses and trucks, is an environmental justice imperative. Through the Justice40 Initiative, the Biden administration has committed to aiming 40% of the benefits of climate investments to the historically marginalized communities who have borne the brunt of air pollution and environmental catastrophe.

Investing in electric school buses is also necessary. Children are a vulnerable population as small lungs and developing bodies are especially susceptible to air pollution. One of my passions as a lawmaker is supporting and improving our public schools, and this includes making sure children can get to and from school in a way that is safe and sustainable.

To ensure our children have a better future, we know we must decrease carbon pollution from the transportation sector – our nation’s largest source of this pollution – that is driving the climate crisis. From 2010 to 2020, Georgia experienced 46 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $20 billion in damages. If we fail to implement the policies that scientists say we need, like cutting transportation pollution, then we are also failing the next generation.

Our leaders must support bold investments in the clean energy and transportation infrastructure for our children’s future. A recent poll of Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, which includes part of my own community, even found that 66% of voters support investments in electric vehicles and more charging infrastructure, and 73% support addressing the climate crisis by making greater investments in clean energy. A healthy future for our communities and environment is possible, and Georgians are clearly in favor of making the investments we need to make it a reality.

Georgia’s congressional delegation must now champion bold policies that will offer our environment and communities the best possible shot at a just, prosperous future. Now is not the time for half measures – it’s time to step bravely into the clean energy future that guarantees breathable air for all.

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Teri Anulewicz
Teri Anulewicz

Democratic state Rep. Teri Anulewicz has represented Georgia’s 42nd state House District since 2017.