Forty-six years ago, I celebrated the first Earth Day by helping my family pull tires out of the San Francisco Bay. This Earth Day, I want to renew my long-standing commitment to our environment by calling on my neighbors in Connecticut and my colleagues in Washington to take action to protect our planet.
Today, more than 150 nations will sign the Paris Climate Agreement, a historic international accord to combat global climate change. Rising sea levels, severe weather, and warmer temperatures threaten public health, infrastructure, agriculture, energy systems, and economies across the globe.
Before the effects of climate change become irreversible, we must work together to address challenging questions: How can we sustain a planet and its resources with a warming climate? What steps must we take to build a resilient and long-lasting infrastructure? How do we encourage companies and individuals to utilize more energy efficient technology? How can we ensure financial stability and growth for our businesses and economies across the world while ensuring the clean air, clean water, and sustainability we all need?
A brighter future is possible –but we need to act now. A brighter future starts with conserving natural resources that support life on Earth: our land, air, and water. Water is our most precious resource, which is why Sen. Chris Murphy and I introduced legislation to protect Connecticut’s beloved Farmington River and Salmon Brook. The Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook are two unparalleled environmental treasures, and they possess some of the highest water quality in Connecticut. Earlier this week, this bill passed the U.S. Senate and now needs a vote in the U.S. House.
Preserving our planet also means building a sustainable energy infrastructure – one that improves efficiency, reduces our carbon emissions and lessens the severity of our impact on the planet. My first act in Congress was to introduce the Collinsville Renewable Energy Production Act, to permit the town of Canton to operate two small hydropower dams and generate clean, locally produced power. I was proud when President Obama signed my bill into law in 2014, knowing that it could help thousands of Connecticut businesses and homes in Farmington Valley. Clean-energy policies similar to this hydropower law at the state level are why Connecticut has had so much success reducing carbon emissions.
Climate change knows no borders and will touch every nation, every state, and every community in some way. Congress needs to fully fund the President’s budget request for the Green Climate Fund, established to help developing countries implement smart climate policies. Developing countries face the greatest threats to climate change largely because they lack the capital to finance adaption measures and investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Paris Agreement succeeded where earlier attempts have failed. Importantly, the Paris Agreement secures commitments from developing countries in a whole-world approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Growing our economy and protecting our environment are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand. We know this to be true in central and northwest Connecticut. Consider the example of Torrington: a former mill town, like many others along the along the Naugatuck River Valley, Torrington has vestiges of industrial sites, known as brownfields, scattered throughout the city.
On Monday, I met with the Mayor Carbone as well as city and state officials to learn about plans to cleanup and repurpose two sites, which will create jobs and revitalize the downtown area. I am championing federal legislation to help communities like Torrington clean up and repurpose these contaminated sites across our nation – and I am encouraged that the Senate passed my bill this week.
Climate change – and the threat it poses to the sustainability of our planet – is the greatest challenge of our time, but it also provides us with the opportunity to make smart policy decisions about our environment now. Despite the partisan gridlock that mars modern politics, policies to protect our planet and preserve our natural resources are making progress in Congress. Our well-being and the well-being of our children and grandchildren depends on decisive action to slow global climate change. If we commit to building on our state and country’s environmental leadership, I am confident that today’s signing of the Paris Climate Agreement will herald a cleaner, brighter future.
Elizabeth Esty represents the 41 cities and towns of Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District.