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Steele: Climate crisis has huge costs for Arizona, but state leaders can’t fight it alone

This week, countries across the world are coming together in Glasgow for COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, to discuss how the world will address our climate crisis. I have joined with more than 530 state legislators from 47 states calling on the federal government to raise our ambition and strengthen our national climate commitments under the Paris Agreement. The time for action is now, and as the largest historical contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the United States has a moral and practical responsibility to reach net zero emissions by or before 2050.

As a state legislator, I see firsthand the impacts of climate change in Arizona. Across the country this year, we have seen historic damages from hurricanes and wildfires, droughts and flooding, heat waves and cold snaps. In Arizona, we are facing impending water shortages, increasing heat deaths, diminishing air quality and destructive wildfires.

A changing climate costs Arizonans. Over the last decade, Arizona has experienced 13 extreme weather events costing the state up to $10 billion in damages. These temperatures aren’t just deadly. They also come at an immense price, crush our economy, and destroy our infrastructure. Hotter, drier summers are disastrous for the U.S. economy, causing agricultural losses, loss of income for outdoor workers, and increased energy costs. Without immediate action to address climate change, extreme weather events will continue to harm our communities and cost our taxpayers money.

All around the country new electric vehicles are selling out before they even hit the showroom. That’s great but Arizona is not ready. I’ve been working on legislation to build up the state and local infrastructure — bills to make new and existing homes “EV Ready” and to build-out our electric vehicle charging network at homes, apartments, work and places of business.

And Arizona isn’t acting alone. States across the country have been at the forefront of climate action while building the new clean energy economy and addressing systemic inequities. While state action is crucial, we can’t do this alone. States rely on the federal government to serve as a strong baseline for climate action. And our bold steps can serve as a roadmap for federal action. For example, more than two-thirds of U.S. states and territories have some form of Renewable Portfolio Standard or Clean Energy Standard, and more than a dozen have committed to 100% clean energy. States are also transitioning fleets to zero-emissions vehicles, making buildings more energy efficient, and protecting natural landscapes to enhance carbon sequestration.

Time and again, states continue to fill the void of climate action at the federal level. But in this critical moment, we must stand as united states. Together, with strong international, national, and state action, we can take the steps that are needed to avoid further climate catastrophe. That is why I encourage President Joe Biden, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, and the rest of our congressional delegation to consider this your mandate from Arizona: match and enhance our ambition and dedication in every negotiation room. The U.S. government must lead by example in committing to and achieving full decarbonization, just as we strive to do so in our own states.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

Victoria Steele is a Democratic state senator from Tucson. She was elected to the state Senate in 2018, and served in the state House of Representatives prior to that.

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Protestors at the climate strike and march in Pittsburgh on September 24, 2021.


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