National and local environmental protection advocates gathered in Richmond Friday to discuss climate change, improving infrastructure, waste management and other pivotal environmental topics.
Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va., 4th District) hosted the event. Participants included Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca., 12th District), Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Gilbert Campbell, co-founder and managing partner of Volt Energy, Roxanne Brown, assistant legislative director of United Steelworkers and Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va., 9th District).
McEachin stressed the connection between infrastructure and environmental protection, saying American infrastructure is in “dire need of modernization.”
“Every day, our land, air and water are threatened by aging systems that can no longer provide the necessary life-saving services like safe drinking water or proper waste management,” McEachin said. “We may need to expand how we think about [infrastructure] in terms of, not only roads, bridges and waterways, but also schools, broadband — things of that nature.”
Pelosi voiced a broad conception of how infrastructure is interwoven in the fabric of American life and environmental health. The former House speaker said improving infrastructure and the environment is a matter of national security, economics, health and morality and that Americans need to be “good stewards of God’s creation” for future generations.
“When we build this infrastructure across America in a green way, we will not only be creating jobs, we will be doing so in a way that is safe for our children,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi spoke about the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, established in 2007, but discontinued in 2011 after Republicans regained control of Congress.
“When I was speaker, my flagship issue was climate and energy and the environment,” Pelosi said. “When we lost the majority, our colleagues eliminated that particular select committee, which — when we win — I hope to reinstate and I will do so with the guidance and leadership of Congressman McEachin.”
Pelosi suggested that openness — letting the public “know what the debate is [and] find common ground” — would be the solution to obstacles blocking a smooth transition to cleaner, more efficient communities. She cited the need for a green infrastructure bill, otherwise the nation “might as well go back to the ‘50s.”
“Children know that they should be careful about overusing resources and children in school know more than the president of the United States or [U.S.] Congress on this issue,” Pelosi said. “We’re in a transition period right now where the public knows, but they have to see a path. And that’s what we have to provide.”
Town stressed that this path is different for every state. For instance, in Virginia, wind and solar power are still burgeoning industries, and a reliance on coal continues to hamper environmental protection in the Commonwealth — not all states can be California, he said. But in transitioning to cleaner energy sources, Town cautioned that statewide economic fallout must be carefully considered.
“There is a responsibility that all of us have to coal miners that, when we change our economy to where we’re no longer going to be coal-based, we aren’t leaving people behind,” Town said. “Just like having to take into account the impacts on communities in east Richmond, we have to take into account the impact on communities in southwestern Virginia.”