May 10, 2019

Duckworth Promotes Environmental Policy Solutions at Annual ELPC Gala


[CHICAGO, IL] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) spoke at the Environmental Law and Policy Center Gala this evening, where she discussed the formation of the new Environmental Justice Caucus in the Senate, the threat of climate change to national security and the legislation she’s worked on to protect families against environmental harm. Photos from tonight’s event are available here.

“Every American has a right to breathe in clean air and drink clean water, no matter where they live, the color of their skin or the size of their income,” Duckworth said. “No elementary-schooler should be scared to drink out of their school fountain, no father should worry about his child breathing in ethylene oxide at the playground and no mother should have to hold a bottle full of brown water up to her baby’s lips. You don’t have to be a policy wonk—or a progressive—to get why this issue’s important. Climate change is real, and climate change is here.”

Duckworth’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Hello, everyone!

Thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you for having me here tonight.

As both a mom and an Illinoisan, I’m so grateful for the work the ELPC does every day.

I still remember sitting in a House Oversight Committee hearing on the Flint water crisis a few years back.

At the time, my older daughter was just a year old. I remember looking out into the audience and seeing a mom holding a baby bottle that looked exactly like the one my baby drank out of, a little bottle, with a pink top.

But unlike my daughter’s, the water in this bottle was brown. Brown.

I couldn’t—and all these years later, still can’t—begin to imagine what it would’ve been like to have to drink that water while I was pregnant.

Or to have no choice but to give it to my baby, because I couldn’t afford safe drinking water.

But that kind of nightmare remains everyday reality for far, far too many parents across this country.

It’s been five years since the city of Flint tried to save a few dollars by swapping out its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to Flint River… setting off a chain of events that poisoned more than 6,000 kids in just 18 months, as too many elected officials covered their eyes to the crisis at hand.

Yet to this day, despite the work of the ELPC, some at the EPA and elsewhere in government are repeating past sins:

Sitting idly by as countless Americans risk getting sick every time they take a sip of water or take a breath of air, with lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color getting poisoned at higher rates

Covering their eyes as black kids on the South Side of Chicago get asthma at twice the national average

As families in Flint still—still!—don’t have access to clean water.

Imagine if your child was one of those who’s gotten sick because this Administration refuses to take action on such obvious crises.

Imagine how devastating that would be.

As a mother, it breaks my heart.

As a Senator, it makes me furious.

And as the ranking member on the subcommittee tasked with oversight of these issues, you better believe I’m going to do something about it.

Every American has a right to breathe in clean air and drink clean water, no matter where they live, the color of their skin or the size of their income.

That’s why last month I launched the Senate’s first-ever Environmental Justice Caucus: to make sure that crises in poorer communities of color garner the same outrage as those that take place in more affluent neighborhoods.

And that’s why I’ve reached across the aisle, pleading with colleagues to see this as a bipartisan issue, ultimately working with folks from both parties to introduce legislation like:

The NO LEAD Act, which would require the EPA to revise the Lead and Copper rule to better regulate lead in drinking water.

Or the Get the Lead Out of Assisted Housing Act, which would protect low-income families through more frequent, more thorough testing.

Or the Great Lakes Water Protection Act, which would ban sewage-dumping into the Basin, because it’s horrifying that every year, 22 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater get funneled into the same bodies of water that supply drinking water to 30 million people.

And I’ve written—repeatedly—to Trump’s EPA, demanding that they finally do something to actually protect Americans from getting sick from our water.

You know, something other than rolling back the WOTUS rule

Something other than choosing corporate polluters over our families, making it easier for companies to contaminate the systems we depend on for clean water.

Progress here hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been quick. But we are moving forward—and that’s thanks in part to allies like you.

It comes down to this. While Flint was a tragedy, it was not an anomaly.

No elementary-schooler should be scared to drink out of their school fountain.

No father should worry about his child breathing in ethylene oxide at the playground.

No mother should have to hold a bottle full of brown water up to her baby’s lips.

This is a matter of health and of safety.

It’s a matter of equality and it’s a matter of justice.

You don’t have to be a policy wonk—or a progressive—to get why this issue’s important.

Just as you don’t have to be a Democrat to acknowledge one of the most obvious facts of our time: that climate change isn’t some made-up hoax or some far-off nightmare.

Climate change is real, and climate change is here.

The Midwest is flooding and the West is burning.

Virginia is sinking and the Pacific is rising.

Temperatures are climbing while our options are dwindling.

Let’s be clear: this is a national and global security threat, something that military leaders and Trump’s own intelligence officials admit, as terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram use droughts to solidify their power in Syria and Nigeria.

As storms ravage our military bases and rising sea levels threaten to swallow 100 more.

There are no shades of gray here:

For the sake of our planet and our national security, we need to take action to curb climate change before it’s too late.

One way to do so is to pivot the military further away from fossil fuel, investing in green energy instead.

Even staunch Republicans like former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have spent years pushing for this.

Not just because it’d slash pollutants—though that’d be reason enough.

Not just because it’s cheaper in the long run—though it is.

Not even because it reduces our dependence on foreign oil and cuts our ties to oil-rich bad actors like Saudi Arabia.   

But because it’s proven time and again to save troops’ lives.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Mattis, who all but begged the military to untether itself from fossil fuel since militants led a major assault on a diesel convoy in 2003.

Why? Because fuel supply convoys make for easy, predictable targets:

In Afghanistan in 2007, one of every 24 fuel convoys suffered casualties.

Even George W. Bush agreed, setting renewable energy benchmarks for our military to reach—benchmarks that became more ambitious under Obama

And in the years since, we’ve learned that this policy works:

Renewable energy keeps our troops safer as efficient fuel-use slashes their number of refueling stops.

Mobile solar panels let troops turn off generators, helping them move through enemy territory unheard and undetected.

And low-weight, longer-lasting batteries lighten troops’ packs—meaning they can carry more bullets instead.

As one former Navy Captain put it, quote: “Years ago, the belief was you could either be efficient or a capable warfighter... [Now, we’ve] found they are interdependent. By being more efficient, you become a better warfighter.” End-quote.

In other words, every dollar we invest in green energy makes our military stronger—and might just save our planet in the process.

Because look, Earth won’t stop warming just because a climate denier is tweeting from the Oval Office.

This issue should not—cannot—be considered partisan if we want our kids’ kids to have as many tomorrows as they deserve.

For more than two decades now, ELPC has made a name for itself by thinking creatively about some of the biggest crises of our time… embracing uncommon ideas for the sake of the common good.

That’s the kind of approach this country needs to take every day from here on out.

And that’s the kind of mindset I’m going to bring to this work as long as I’m lucky enough to call myself your Senator.

So thank you for being my partners in this fight.

For working to bring about a future in which our families won’t have to worry about the water they sip or the air they breathe.

And for doing all you can to ensure that our grandchildren will have a habitable planet to call home.