We are in a dire situation. Climate change is accelerating, and if we do not take action in the next few years, the results will be catastrophic. Sea level rise and extreme weather have already started to affect our country and our state. The risks are especially high in Delaware, which has the lowest average elevation in the country. Climate change isn’t our only issue, either. Across the state, habitats are suffering due to invasive species and wetland destruction, and people are drinking dirty water, breathing dirty air, and dealing with the negative health effects of reckless polluters.
Meanwhile, Delaware has an economic problem too. Over the last 12 years, the closure of the Chrysler factory and layoffs from companies like AstraZeneca and DuPont have made jobs harder to come by. People have been forced to work worse jobs for less money, and it has affected our economy. In 2017, Delaware was one of two states where the poverty rate went up, and while it has recovered slightly since then, many Delawareans still live in precarity.
With all that we have at stake, Delaware should be at the forefront of environmental and economic justice in this country, but we have lagged behind. While states like Washington and New York have passed ambitious climate legislation, Delaware has relied on piecemeal solutions or even rolling back existing protections. In 2019, the governor’s budget overview did not include a single line about the environment. This is unacceptable. If we don’t act now, young people today are going to have to bear the consequences. We need a Green New Deal for Delaware.
We Need To Set a Bold Plan to Move to Renewables
In 2018, the IPCC released a report saying that, to avoid the disastrous results of 2°C of warming, the world must reduce carbon emissions by 45% before 2030, and be cut to zero by 2050. This will require action from the local level all the way up to the international level. Given the effects that coastal flooding and extreme weather will have on Delaware, we should be leading efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and we can do so while boosting our economy.
Move to 100% renewable energy by 2050
In Delaware, the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) determines how much of the electricity purchased in Delaware must be renewable. Current law has a requirement of 25% renewable by 2025, which is a good start, but we need to go further. We must join states across the country in setting a firm deadline for 100% renewable. To be in line with the IPCC standards, we should get 45% of our energy from renewables by 2030 and 100% by 2050.
Preserve and expand carveout for solar energy
Currently, there is a carveout in the RPS for solar energy, where it must provide 3.5% of our overall energy consumption by 2025. When moving to 100% renewable energy, this carveout must be expanded to go along with it. Solar energy creates jobs in manufacturing for framing equipment, and more renewable energy should mean more jobs.
Create a comprehensive plan for clean energy and clean transportation
These changes are absolutely crucial to getting serious on climate in Delaware, but we can’t make them without a plan. The state should bring together various groups, including the Delaware Renewable Energy Taskforce, the Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility, labor unions, environmental groups, and members of historically disenfranchised communities, to create complete comprehensive plans to reach these goals. These plans should cover the transition to 100% renewable electricity generation, installation of electric vehicle infrastructure, expansion of clean public transportation, and other issues, and do so in a way that centers on the communities that will be most affected by the climate crisis.
We Need To Make Sure The Benefits of a Green Economy Go To Everyone
A transition to a green economy is not automatically better for everyone. In France, when they raised the gas tax to make up for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, that sparked riots that continue until today. Environmental justice is not just unless it benefits working people and frontline communities.
Create a Green Bank to provide funding for renewable energy
Many states have created Green Banks to facilitate investment in renewable energy where it may not exist in the private sector. In Delaware, a Green Bank could be used to back these projects, especially in low-income communities that might not be able to find funding elsewhere.
Expand grants and subsidies for community solar
One of the benefits of solar power is that excess energy generated individual or community projects can be sold to generate wealth for communities. However, this is easier for communities that already have the wealth. The Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility (or Energize Delaware) is a nonprofit organization created by the state for this purpose, and has done an excellent job with the resources it has, but should be given more resources to make the changes needed to bring widespread renewable energy to the state.
Expand programs to retrofit old buildings
Many old buildings and residences are extremely energy inefficient. This means that they release more emissions and cost their residents more to heat and cool them. That especially hurts working class people, who tend to live in older houses. With their limited resources, Energize Delaware is already able to do around 1300 home assessments a year, but the size of the problem requires more resources. The result would be more money for working people and less carbon emissions
Provide education, apprenticeships, scholarships for the renewable sector
A green economy requires people who are able to do green jobs. Research and technology is a big part of this, but the benefits must go to all working people. The state should provide resources to community colleges and trade schools to create and expand programs for the workers manufacturing, installing, and maintaining clean energy infrastructure.
We Need To Ensure That Every Delawarean Has a Right to a Clean Environment
While reduction of carbon emissions is a crucial part of any environmental plan, it is not the only issue that Delaware faces. The reckless action of big corporations has created potential health risks for people all over the state. Areas from Hockessin to Sussex County have been dealing with water pollution, and communities like Southbridge and Claymont have dealt with health risks from risky development. Every Delawarean deserves a healthy environment, and that should be a right.
Pass a Green Amendment to make clean air and water a right
Right now, there is no guarantee of a clean environment in the state of Delaware. This in an issue, because people fighting for clean air or water frequently rely on the legal system to secure these rights. Passing a Green Amendment to the Delaware constitution that guarantees every Delawarean a right to clean air, pure water, and a healthy environment would make sure that protection of the environment is not just based on political convenience.
Require cumulative health risk assessments for new industry
Industry and manufacturing create new jobs, but when precautions are not taken, they can also create huge health risks for workers and surrounding communities. While laws like the revised Coastal Zone Act might provide basic reporting around environmental and economic effects, there is no guarantee of a cumulative health risk assessment for new or expanded industry. By making sure that all the effects of a new industry are accounted for, we can make sure that new jobs don’t mean a sicker community.
Create new protections that ensure that aggregate effects of local industries are considered before any new developments are approved
While individual effects of local industries are currently considered, the combined effects of multiple industries can have even bigger consequences for the environment and communities around them. We must make sure that these effects are considered before any development is approved.
We Need To Protect Our Natural Resources
One of Delaware’s biggest assets is its unique ecosystem. Our wetlands, native species, and beaches are a huge part of what makes it great to live in Delaware. But these are resources that can easily be destroyed if we don’t act carefully to protect them.
Require that every public-owned property have a native pollinator garden when feasible
Native species are an important part of an ecosystem, but in Delaware they are increasingly threatened. One of the reasons this is the case is that development fragments ecosystems, which allows invasive species to thrive while native species suffer. By putting native pollinator gardens on state property, and encouraging them on private property, we can work on connecting ecosystems a bit more and push back against invasive species.
Strengthen complete communities legislation
In 2016, Delaware was the first state in the country to pass a Complete Communities bill, allowing state and local government to work together to create more walkable and bikeable communities. This was a great breakthrough, and promotes less carbon-intense transportation while reducing irresponsible development. We can build on the initial bill by providing more designated funding for complete community projects. Reducing reliance on cars will not only reduce emissions, but reduce costs for low-income and working-class communities.
Create a comprehensive plan to expand walkable/bikeable infrastructure
While not all infrastructure can be walkable or bikeable, there is a lot out there that can be if we put in the proper investment. The state should bring together stakeholders, especially the communities affected, to create a plan that will expand this infrastructure as much as possible.
Even all of these plans are only a part of the changes that are necessary. The fixes that we need to push back against climate change and environmental degradation in Delaware are too extensive to put into one document, and the resources needed to meet this challenge are more than one state representative campaign can gather. And the state itself can only do so much. We need to push for a Green New Deal on both a county level and a national level. But here in the state of Delaware, we need to start planning the big steps we will have to take to fight for environmental justice. As state representative, that is what I intend to do.