Climate Czar: Texas Storm Wake-Up Call 02/27 09:35
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The deadly winter storm that caused widespread power
outages in Texas and other states is a "wake-up call" for the United States to
build energy systems and other infrastructure that are more reliable and
resilient in the face of extreme-weather events linked to climate change,
President Joe Biden's national climate adviser says.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gina McCarthy said Friday that
the storm that devastated Texas and other states "is not going to be as unusual
as people had hoped. It is going to happen, and we need to be as resilient and
working together as much as possible. We need systems of energy that are
reliable and resilient as well.''
McCarthy said the scientific evidence is clear that more frequent and more
dangerous storms are likely, "and if we really care about keeping our people
working and keeping our kids healthy and giving them a future we're proud of,
then we're not going to ignore these wake-up calls. We're going to take
McCarthy's comments came as Biden and his wife Jill were in Texas to survey
damage caused by the storm, which caused millions of homes and business to lose
heat and running water. At least 40 people in the state died.
"We need to envision a future and an optimistic way of giving people hope
again --- that we are building back better,'' she said, using Biden's slogan
for a plan costing at least $2 trillion to rebuild the nation's infrastructure
and create clean-energy jobs.
"It is a catchy phrase, but it also is a kind of optimistic rallying cry and
I think we ought to heed it," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said she expects an "after-action" report on the Texas crisis and
ways it can be avoided in the future. Many people were caught in frigid homes
that lacked heat for days in subfreezing temperatures.
Texas is not connected to the rest of the nation's power grid, and McCarthy
said the storm may be reason to rethink that.
"You know, now's not the time for me to be pointing fingers, but clearly the
United States has always done best when it's worked together and relied on one
another,'' she said. "And I think Texas might ... have a real opportunity and
probably ought to think about making sure they join with their neighbors in an
interstate grid system that allows them flexibility, and that helps them help
their neighbors when the time comes.''
While Oklahoma, Louisiana and other neighboring states also were hit hard by
the storm, they were able to rely on each other, she said.
McCarthy said Biden is committed to an all-of-government response to climate
change, which she said was "part and parcel of a strategy to strengthen our
economy and grow jobs" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden has set a goal of eliminating pollution from fossil fuel in the power
sector by 2035 and from the U.S. economy overall by 2050, speeding what is
already a market-driven growth of solar and wind energy and lessening the
country's dependence on oil and gas. The aggressive plan is aimed at slowing
human-caused global warming that is magnifying extreme weather events such as
the Texas storm and deadly wildfires in the West.
Biden also wants to ensure that efforts to address climate change include
"workers that have been left behind" by closed coal mines or power plants, as
well as communities located near polluting refineries and other hazards,
"We're going to push the clean energy, we're going to push for better cars,
but it's also going to be about capturing the will of the public to actually
face the challenges we're facing today and meet them in a way that's going to
be beneficial to them,'' she said.
For example, Biden's plans to provide 500,000 charging stations for electric
cars and invest in battery technology are intended to make it easier for the
public to participate in a clean-energy economy. "If we can lower that cost,
and everybody knows they can get where they need to go when they need to get
there" in an electric car, "we'll get the kind of demand on the auto-sector
side that we need,'' she said.
Similarly, if utilities are given the right incentives, they can meet
Biden's goal to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2035, McCarthy said. The head
of a lobbying group for electric utilities said earlier this month that the
2035 date would be "an incredibly difficult situation to handle" for most U.S.
While she respects the group and individual utilities, 2035 is Biden's goal
"and I think we will get there,'' McCarthy said.
On coal, McCarthy convened a working group Friday to discuss ways to help
communities affected by coal-mine closures and shuttering of coal-fired power
The working group is intended to "bring a high level of representation from
every single agency ... to come around the table and start thinking about ways
in which we can really address communities that may be having difficult
transitions,'' she said.
One idea, endorsed by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the chairman of the
Senate Energy Committee, is to ramp up a program to seal and clean abandoned
coal mines in his state and across the country. Former coal miners and power
plant workers "have a terrific skill set that could be used in the same areas
to start closing some of the mines,'' she said. "We can provide significant
resources to keep people working in those areas ... and it's going to reduce
methane emissions'' that are now spewing virtually uncontrolled.
Similar challenges exist in the oil and natural gas industry, McCarthy said.
"From a climate perspective, we can address a dangerous problem,'' she said,
while also "investing in ways that continue to build up opportunities for
workers to work.''