Federal officials said the “powerful voice” of Hoosiers and other Midwesterners will be key to fulfilling the Biden administration’s climate strategy.
Senior administration officials from various agencies spoke at the virtual Midwest Climate Summit July 19 about the actions the federal government was taking to reduce the U.S.’ future contribution to climate change and what role the Midwest would play in ensuring the climate strategy’s success.
President Biden made battling climate change a key part of his agenda. Beginning on his first day in office, Biden issued executive orders that overturned several environmental executive actions from the previous administration and directed federal agencies to place the climate crisis at the center of U.S. foreign policy and national security.
Biden then set the U.S. on a course to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by up to 52% by 2030 and make electricity generation carbon-free by 2035.
The officials who spoke at the summit agreed that the Midwest was currently an important part of the climate change problem and was also crucial to shaping the nation’s clean energy future.
Janet McCabe, deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former professor of practice at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, said historic flooding, wildfires and drought in the Midwest and in other parts of the world are the climate change effects scientists have warned about for decades.
“The Midwest is a significant contributor to climate change, so it's just really important for this part of the country to be as educated as possible and have as many opportunities as possible to get engaged,” McCabe said. “The climate crisis is here. This is a crisis in which no wheel should have to be reinvented. We just do not have time for that.”
McCabe also served as director of IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute before being appointed to her current role in the administration. She said private companies have begun to realize they are not immune to climate change effects, and local governments have led the way in preparing the Midwest to tackle those effects.
At the federal level, McCabe said the EPA was preparing to take action on the transportation sector, the economic sector responsible for the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. McCabe said the EPA would soon issue proposals to revise the previous administration’s emissions standards for light duty vehicles and heavy-duty trucks and buses.
McCabe said the EPA would also release new emissions guidelines for methane from new and existing oil and gas sources this fall. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is at least 25 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Officials from other agencies, including the Department of Transportation, expounded on the difference the Midwest can make in terms of contributions to climate change, especially in the “Crossroads of America.”
The Department of Energy’s Carla Frisch, principal deputy director for the DoE’s Office of Policy, said the Midwest’s historic manufacturing capacity could allow the U.S. to corner the market on clean energy.
“By the end of the decade, the global market for clean energy will skyrocket to $23 trillion at a minimum. Given the unique perspective of being where the auto industry was born and leading American manufacturing for over a century, the Midwest is already taking steps toward that clean energy economy,” Frisch said.
Indiana has previously used hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from the DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for sustainable transportation, renewable energy generation and energy-saving manufacturing projects in Kokomo, Indianapolis, Columbus, Fort Wayne and other parts of the state.
As of 2020, the clean energy sector was outpacing auto parts manufacturing in the state, and solar and energy storage jobs increased even through the pandemic economic crisis.
Frisch said Midwestern universities will also play a crucial role in developing the technology that will help reduce climate change impacts through what the DoE calls “Energy Earthshots,” programs to accelerate breakthroughs in clean energy technology.
The Midwest will also prove important for the Department of Transportation’s climate policies.
According to the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, Indiana’s transportation system is vulnerable to climate change effects, with increased heat and flooding weakening the life of pavement and structural supports.
The Department of Transportation’s deputy assistant secretary for climate policy, Andrew Wishnia, said the agency planned to incentivize pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in construction plans in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Wishnia said the agency wanted to encourage state departments of transportation to expand non-motorized travel and transition to less carbon intensive transportation.