Washington Weekly: June 2, 2021

Washington Weekly: June 2, 2021

The Past Week in D.C.

Companies who emit high levels of carbon dioxide continue to make organizational and cross-industry commitments to lessen their carbon footprint.

Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (of which Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow is a member), passed the $304 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act out of committee with unanimous, bipartisan support.

As the airline industry celebrates the return of travel for many people, it also faces a new crisis:  how to limit carbon emissions from air travel, which experts say could be decades away. This ongoing problem has led to what some have begun to call “fly shaming.”

On Tuesday, the Biden Administration announced that it will suspend oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, undoing one of the many anti-environment Trump-era policies and protecting this rare and fragile Alaskan ecosystem.

Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?

This past week saw yet another tragic anniversary in our country’s troubled racial history: May 31, 2021 marked 100-years to the day since the massacre and burning of Greenwood, Oklahoma, otherwise known as “Black Wallstreet.” On that day in 1921, a white mob made up of citizens and local police looted and burned 35 blocks of one of the most prominent black communities in the country, killing an estimated 300 Black people, including entire families, and leaving more than 10,000 homeless. On Tuesday, President Biden became the first president to visit the site of the massacre and discuss the tragedy.

Sadly, if unsurprisingly, this horrific event was not the last time Black Americans have been systematically displaced from their homes and neighborhoods. In the post-World War II economic boom of the 1950s, white Americans first began to realize the American Dream, moving to the suburbs, buying cars, and enjoying new recreational activities such as drive-in movies and “fast food.” Black Americans, meanwhile, were being removed in droves from their homes as a result of newly-enacted federal policies. The 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act, along with certain housing policies, created incentives for federal highways to be built directly through the heart of urban Black communities, aimed at easing commutes for a growing white suburban population to get to inner cities. This took place all across America, creating yet another racist scar on American history, the impacts of which are still deeply felt today.

Now, President Biden is looking to do something about it. His most recent infrastructure proposal includes $20 billion to reconnect traditionally Black neighborhoods that were separated by highways in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has called on this to be a top priority for his department. Replacing urban highways with walkable neighborhoods has obvious climate and public health benefits, as well, and aligns with transportation trends of the past 2 decades, which has seen the number of miles driven by an average American decline steadily since 2004.

One of the most prominent examples of these efforts lies right here in Michigan, with the I-375 Project that will turn the below-grade Interstate 375 highway through downtown Detroit into a street-level boulevard from Gratiot Avenue to Atwater Street by 2027. In addition to the transportation, climate, and livability benefits of a tree-lined boulevard over a sunken highway, the project is an attempt to make up for a racist past that led to its construction, which created “a mile long monument to bigotry.”  When I-375 opened in 1964, it cut directly through two thriving Black Detroit neighborhoods, Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, displacing over 130,000 people and countless businesses that made up these communities. The communities, and many of the families impacted, have never fully recovered — a story that reverberates across Black America.

Racism is intricately tied to America’s story. It was quite literally written into the original draft of the Constitution. Still today, as I write this, Republican-led state legislatures across the country are trying to block the teaching of systemic racism in public school K-12 American history classes. While infrastructure spending for projects like the I-375 removal will do little to erase the racist truths about our country’s past and present, or restore the homes, businesses, and livelihoods of generations of Black Americans that have been destroyed, the Biden Administration should be applauded for its efforts to tackle the intricately tied issues of infrastructure, climate, and systemic racism through his American Jobs Plan. As Detroit historian Jamon Jordan notes, “Paving over I-375 does not solve the problem of what happened years ago.” But it might help to create a better, more equitable, and less carbon-dependent future for Detroit and Michigan.

A Deeper Dive

Next Tuesday, June 8 at 5pm, Michigan LCV is hosting a virtual event about President Biden’s climate agenda and what it means for Michigan, featuring Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (MI-12), David Keive, Director of Public Engagement for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Ryan “Rei” Fielder, Manager for Michigan Alliance for Justice in Climate (MAJIC). Join us for a hopeful conversation around the Biden Administration’s efforts to continue moving the dial on climate during his first few months in office, his plans moving forward, and how it will all impact Michigan. You can register for the event here.

Join The Movement

Get exclusive, real-time updates about environmental action in Lansing — PLUS ways you can take action straight to your inbox.

Join the movement to protect the Great Lakes state

And we’ll show you two ways to help. Together, we can be a voice for change and protect Michigan’s land, air, water, public health, and democracy.