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Workers set up a solar PV power system. (Photo: Team Massachusetts 4D Home/flickr/cc)

As Coronavirus Cases and Unemployment in the US Climb, 39 Groups Launch Coalition for Clean Energy and Healthy Communities

"The Covid-19 pandemic has made clear that the health of nature, the health of people, and the health of our economy are all deeply connected, and this fact should guide and inform the U.S. government's response."

Jessica Corbett

As confirmed coronavirus cases and unemployment claims in the United States continue to rise, 39 environmental, faith, and public health organizations came together Thursday to launch a coalition advocating for federal action that "creates jobs, protects public health and the environment, and advances equity and justice."

"The legislative response to Covid-19 needs to move us toward a just and sustainable future."
—Bob Wendelgass, Clean Water Action

"Our country is facing a set of historic and intersecting challenges—an ongoing pandemic, a faltering economy, deeply rooted racial injustice, and an ever-growing climate crisis," said Will Gartshore of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a statement announcing the coalition. "We have an opportunity to respond with solutions that will allow us to build back better and position our nation to be more equitable, more resilient, and ultimately more prosperous."

Gartshore, WWF's director of government affairs and advocacy, said that "as Congress works to revitalize the American economy and protect the American people, it should prioritize investments that are environmentally smart and sustainable, promote healthier and more resilient communities, support a just transition to a clean energy economy, and address long-standing disparities and inequities, including issues of environmental justice."

"The Covid-19 pandemic has made clear that the health of nature, the health of people, and the health of our economy are all deeply connected, and this fact should guide and inform the U.S. government's response, recovery, and economic stimulus efforts now and in the coming months," he added.

Other members of the new Coalition for Clean Energy and Healthy Communities (CFCEHC) include Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Defend Our Future, Earthjustice, Generation Progress, the National Medical Association, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and the Regeneration Project's Interfaith Power & Light campaign.

CFCEHC, its website says, "is a convening of communities demanding that any future stimulus and recovery packages must include policies that provide direct assistance to people, create good jobs for all—including in the clean energy sector—bolster policies that will grow the economy and cut pollution, correct inequities linked to environmental injustices and health disparities, address the climate crisis, protect public lands and oceans, and accelerate the transition to cleaner sources of energy."

Demonstrations calling for an end to systemic racism have swept the nation over the past month in the wake of Minneapolis police killing George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. The racial justice protests and demands have addressed not only law enforcement violence toward people of color but also the ongoing pollution of poor communities, many which have been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The coalition launch also follows months of groups urging governments around the world to respond to the pandemic with a People's Bailout, Just Recovery, Healthy Recovery, Green Recovery, Green Stimulus, and Global Green New Deal—related calls for recovery plans that simultaneously tackle the interwoven economic, environmental, and public health crises in ways that provide direct support to frontline communities.

Echoing the calls that preceded the creation of the coalition, CFCEHC says on its website that "any measure aimed at rebuilding our economy must not include giveaways to big polluters; any relief for the industry should be allocated to workers and communities affected by the downturn. We must also protect these workers and communities as we transition to cleaner forms of energy."

Clean Water Action president and CEO Bob Wendelgass said Thursday that "Congress must act now to help the most impacted communities—disproportionately Black and other communities of color—recover and get back to work. The legislative response to Covid-19 needs to move us toward a just and sustainable future."

"Rebuilding from this pandemic must include an investment in infrastructure needed to ensure clean water for all, acting on climate by building resilient communities, supporting public transit, and making rapid investments in clean energy," he added.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans while highlighting and exacerbating the systemic racism and inequalities plaguing the country. Congress cannot wait any longer—they must act and act swiftly."
—Liz Perera, Sierra Club

CFCEHC's website highlights six solutions backed by the groups, with detailed policy proposals for each category: clean energy incentives, building efficiency, clean transportation, building resilient communities, clean and safe water, and land, water, and wildlife restoration.

As of Thursday morning, the United States had more than 2.38 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and over 122,000 deaths—more than any other nation in the world, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker. The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday that about 1.48 million people filed jobless claims last week and another 728,000 applied for benefits from a federal emergency program for those who don't qualify for unemployment insurance.

"The pandemic has shown that we are vulnerable and unprepared for the types of crisis that will become ever more common until we handle the climate emergency. It also has exposed the gross inequality and injustice in how benefits and burdens are distributed in our society," said Public Citizen climate program director David Arkush. "Congress needs to address both sets of problems in stimulus and recovery legislation—and the best way to do that is to build a more equitable and just economy with investments that move us rapidly toward a safe and sustainable climate."

Liz Perera, climate policy director at Sierra Club, agreed. "The Covid-19 pandemic has threatened the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans while highlighting and exacerbating the systemic racism and inequalities plaguing the country," she said. "Congress cannot wait any longer—they must act and act swiftly."


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