CEQ Chair Mallory, Rep. Dingell, and Michigan Climate Leaders Push for Bold Climate Action at Dearborn Event

Washington, D.C. – Today, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, State Senator Stephanie Chang, State Senator Mallory McMorrow, and other Michigan climate leaders underscored the urgent need for Congress to pass the bold climate action outlined in the Build Back Better framework. The event, held at Utility Workers Union Hall Local 223 in Dearborn, was hosted by Climate Power and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters as part of the Climate Action Now: Great American Build Tour.

During the event, the speakers highlighted the urgent state of the climate crisis in Michigan, the devastation of extreme weather and toxic pollution, while remaining hopeful about the opportunities created by investing in clean energy and resilience. In pre recorded videos, Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow also discussed recent legislative action to help lay the groundwork for climate action. Bold investments in clean energy would create tens of thousands of new good-paying jobs in Michigan, while also mitigating the toxic pollution and worsening effects of the climate crisis. The speakers noted that Michiganders are paying the price of climate inaction, as deadly and dangerous extreme weather ravages their communities.

Here are some highlights from the event:

In the environmental justice panel, participants discussed how the Build Back Better framework would give Michigan the opportunity to address the environmental crisis in communities of color. 

  • “How do we make sure that infrastructure is one that builds a strong foundation, but at the same time makes sure that everyone is a part of the change that can and will happen because we know the climate crisis is at our doorstep today,” said moderator Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “But we also know that we have power to make real change happen […] We can’t win on climate change if we don’t win on environmental justice.”
  • “Forty percent of the overall federal benefits from investments in the clean energy and climate change activities will go to disadvantaged communities, to low-income communities,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council of Environmental Quality about President Biden’s Justice40 Executive Order. Mallory called Justice40 an “important first step” to addressing the disparate impacts of the climate crisis, saying, “I think we are all committed to making sure that we deliver on this […] We’re gonna keep talking to the agencies, to the communities about what we’re doing and whether it’s working.” She also noted the importance of community leaders in Detroit, some of whom she met with earlier in the day for a walking tour of Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code, 48217, saying that “it’s one thing to talk about environmental justice as a generic issue, it’s another thing when you have people who can give you real examples of specific things that are happening on the ground and specific solutions.”
  • “When I’m thinking about Building Back Better, one of the first questions that comes to mind for me is who’s going to do that building?” said Bryan Lewis, EcoWorks Detroit Executive Director and member of Governor Whitmer’s Advisory Michigan Council on Environmental Justice. “We need to be able to prepare Detroiters to be able to build back better, because if we don’t do that, again we’re following the same rubric that put us in this position in the first place.” Lewis also noted how environmental justice is important to voters and that if leaders are “not taking action, just know that we will.”
  • “The churn of climate change isn’t simply the iterative events that we can point to. Those are helpful to show what climate change is gonna do. But the cost is often in the smaller things,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Chair of Southpaw, Michigan. “It’s in the water that’s getting more and more poisoned as we put more and more pollutants in it, or as more and more people are drinking from the same water resources. It’s the day-by-day leaking of pollutants into the air that our children breathe as they’re playing in their playgrounds in kindergarten […] This is an all-the-time thing. In a lot of communities, it is not one moment, it is not one event, it is the day-to-day grind and churn of living in a climate change world.”
  • “Detroit is lifted up right now as the Blackest community in the nation. And we are currently, while we’re speaking, still dealing with lead in our pipes,” said Sierra Club Organizing Director Roslyn Ogburn. “And so to bring this conversation to everyone’s kitchen table, to everyone’s television, is to make this a constant heartbeat. I want to make sure the water is clean for our children […] We want to make sure that our babies and our children have a future. You know, we can’t put a dollar amount on life. Water is a human right. And so we need to make sure that the funding is available to put in the right infrastructure in our communities.”

Participants of the labor panel highlighted the importance of building back justly, drawing on their experiences as Michigan union members to emphasize the need to protect the state while creating good-paying jobs and opportunities for people across the state.

  • Journeyman, Inside Wireman, and member of  IBEW Local 58  Theo Spencer highlighted the importance of education and worker training, saying we must “mak[e]sure we reinvest as much money as possible, as much funds as possible, into the educational infrastructure […] Making sure we don’t stop there, with the one or two or three programs that may exist, but making sure that as much money as possible, as many resources as possible, is devoted to education, so that people can be empowered to change the destiny that they thought they had no choice in.” He continued, saying that empowering families and communities across Michigan will allow people “to be in a position to be concerned about what’s going on around them. […] There’s so many people who are not involved and don’t know what’s going on, because… that bill, that car insurance that they can’t afford to pay is too big.”
  • “Cleaner air, cleaner water, a cleaner environment” are some of the ways Patrick DillonNational Executive Vice President, Utility Workers Union of America hopes the infrastructure deal will impact Michigan. “I just got back from being up North. It’s beautiful, and we need to do everything we can to preserve that.”
  • “I really think the term ‘jobs’ is not what we’re looking for — we’re trying to create careers,” said IBEW member James Shaw. “My aspiration is that all parties come together and that we can work through this so that each party gets the piece that they need, and you know, ultimately, we can create something for our community and for our children and for future generations that come up that will sustain them.”

In the state climate champions panel, elected officials from across Michigan discussed how their constituents are dealing with the worsening effects of climate change and the need for federal leadership to underpin the work happening at the state level.

  • “We know from the recent UN[IPCC] report that this problem is only going to continue to get worse, and that we need action now,” said State Senator Stephanie Chang. “I’m hoping that we can really use this moment to remind folks of how urgent this is. I think that people — more and more –are realizing that we do need action now […] Any week without action is a week too late.”
  • “You can’t ignore multiple hundred year floods in the span of a few weeks. You can’t ignore that we had a gust of wind at 60 miles per hour that knocked down trees all over my district and people are still out [of power],” said State Senator Mallory McMorrow. “You are paying for it because we are not taking action, because we are still building our infrastructure for a time that does not exist anymore. People are bearing that on their backs, in their paychecks, and I think you can’t ignore that it’s here, it’s at our doorstep, and it’s happening every single day.”
  • “You can’t talk about fixing and addressing climate change without talking about economic and environmental justice. We see this [pollution] oftentimes in Black and Brown communities where pollution is normalized. Dirty water is somehow something that is okay when you turn on your tap,” said State Representative Abraham Aiyash.

In a one-on one panel, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell described how the climate crisis continues affecting Michiganders and discussed the urgent need for bold legislative action to help vulnerable communities.

  • “Actually, the panels tonight are very important to listen to and to understand that each of their perspectives is absolutely critical as we have this discussion, because […] the UN couldn’t have flashed a stronger ‘we’re in trouble’. And it’s happening faster than anybody thinks it is,” Congresswoman Debbie Dingell said. “I think this is the most important thing we have to talk about as we talk about the need for bold action – we are constantly making false choices. It is not ‘we have to worry about our future and the environment or jobs, but we can’t do both.’ The fact of the matter is, we have to do both.”
  • Rep. Dingell also discussed legislation that would invest in upgrading infrastructure and help transition to clean energy in Michigan. Rep. Dingell continued to discuss the recent events in Michigan: “Here in Dearborn, Michigan we have 20,000 homes that have been impacted in the last 6 weeks. We are all living this. It’s time for bold action, it’s time to protect jobs, bring our supply chain back to this country. Make sure that people have good paying jobs and protect the communities that have been so adversely impacted, not for years, but for decades.”

Michigander Jasmin Maciel-Gutierrez shared her personal experience with the climate crisis, described how Latino communities are more vulnerable to extreme weather,  are more at risk, and called for leaders to act now to address climate change.

  • “I live in Southwest Detroit. But the night of June 26 was something that my family and I have never seen before. […] There was a flood. By the time that I got to my basement, there was around seven feet of water in my basement. There was no way for me to salvage anything. […] It’s 15 years of hard work, money, memories, just gone. It hit us really bad when we knew that our cars were completely gone” said Jasmin Maciel-Gutierrez. “We need to have our representatives, who we elected, be there for us. Fund into climate change, funds in infrastructure. We need to have funding in these communities because we are vulnerable. And a lot of change will be done if they [elected officials] just listen to us. It’s one thing to look at statistics, but it’s another thing to hear personal stories. We need to act now.”

You can view the full event here.

Please let us know if you’d like to connect with any of our featured guests:

  • Rep. Debbie Dingell
  • State Sen. Stephanie Chang
  • State Sen. Mallory McMorrow
  • State Rep. Abraham Aiyash
  • Mustafa Santiago Ali
  • Dr. Abdul El Sayed
  • Bryan Lewis
  • Theo Spencer
  • Patrick Dillon
  • Roslyn Ogburn
Media interested in covering this event can reach out to [email protected] to receive more information.