As high temperatures scorch the U.S., environmental groups turn up heat on federal leaders

Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 12:57 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - With temperatures skyrocketing in the U.S., bringing dangerous conditions for millions of Americans, environmental groups have a striking backdrop as they urge the federal government to address climate change.

“It’s just really unsettling to think about this being the new normal,” said Derek Walker, vice president for U.S. Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Last month was the hottest June on record in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The Northeast has been particularly hard-hit by a “historic and dangerous” heat wave, smashing records with temperatures as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Infrastructure negotiations in Washington are also at a boiling point. As federal leaders discuss trillion-dollar packages, climate change should be front and center, Walker said.

“It really increases the imperative that we have not only to take serious action to reduce pollution, but to create very vast and interconnected support mechanisms for individuals in communities that are under the most threat and are the most vulnerable,” Walker said.

In the bipartisan framework hashed out between senators and the White House, $21 billion would be directed to what is being called climate remediation—targeting marginalized communities adversely impacted by climate change and building more resilient infrastructure.

There needs to be a broader investment than what the bill currently offers, Walker said, even if it comes in a separate partisan package being discussed on Capitol Hill.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in that situation, but we definitely need to have a climate-focused package as a follow up,” Walker said.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), one of the Republicans who helped negotiate the infrastructure deal, said he is on board with the environmental provisions in the package after previously fighting the Biden Administration on its climate priorities.

“I’m really positive about the energy portion,” Cassidy said. “There’s a lot of good things in there.”

But going further with another package and targeting the fossil fuel industry would be damaging for his state, the senator said. One in nine Louisiana jobs supports oil and coal operations, according to the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

Nearly three-quarters of electricity produced in the state comes from petroleum, natural gas, and coal, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows.

Cassidy added that decreasing carbon intensity and building infrastructure to capture more carbon can, and should, coexist with the fossil fuel industry that helps drive his state’s economy.

“They have a very unrealistic attitude that we can live without fossil fuels,” Cassidy said. “We can balance our need for fossil fuel with a similar need to lower the carbon in the atmosphere.”

Lawmakers have not yet released the text of the infrastructure package. They just returned from a multi-week recess.

Grace Ferguson contributed to this report.

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