March 17, 2021

Chair DeFazio Statement from Full Committee Hearing on the Business Case for Climate Solutions

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled, “The Business Case for Climate Solutions.” Video of DeFazio’s opening statement is here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Today’s hearing marks an important step on the path to a more sustainable transportation future. The depth of interest in this hearing—which resulted in eight witnesses today—demonstrates the willingness and the readiness of corporate America to be active partners in solving the monumental challenge we face.

As we will hear today, both private sector action and sound public policy are necessary to meaningfully address climate change. This is not about whether we need either private voluntary reductions or government measures. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.

We will need commitment at all levels of government, and from the private sector, to achieve significant reductions in carbon pollution in the transportation sector, to transition to large-scale decarbonization, and to invest in the infrastructure upgrades to make our assets and facilities resilient to extreme weather events. Failure to protect assets and to invest in emissions reductions will have real financial consequences to businesses and transportation agencies both now and in the long run. And we will hear these messages loud and clear today.

In 2021, we have thankfully moved beyond the polarizing discussion of whether we need to act, which has stalled progress on an existential threat to our planet and our citizens for far too long. If any of my colleagues are here today to take that line of argument, I urge you to review the prepared remarks of our panel. Every one of the business leaders here today can affirm that denial of reality is a bad business decision.

But these decisions are about more than just the bottom line. We will hear from our panel today that the transportation sector in particular holds tremendous promise for new norms that will move the needle on climate change. To quote from Mr. Smith’s written testimony: “We believe that a connected world is a better world…and we recognize that with the privilege of connecting the world also comes the responsibility of being good stewards of the planet.”

While some sectors have begun to move in the right direction on climate, the same is not true of the transportation sector, which is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. Over the last three decades, those emissions have risen 24 percent, more than any other sector. Passenger and freight vehicles account for 82 percent of transportation sector emissions, which is why much of this hearing will focus on surface transportation policy. The contribution to the carbon pollution problem from the way we currently move people and goods is clear.

The available solutions in the transportation sector are equally plentiful and promising. Conversion of personal vehicles, transit buses, trucks, and locomotives to low- and zero-emission forms of power and providing alternative charging and fueling infrastructure is a rapidly expanding area that several witnesses will discuss today. Support of this transition through robust Federal investment was a key element of the bill this Committee approved last Congress, H.R. 2.

Boosting investment in low- and zero-emission, and more efficient, modes of transportation including transit, freight and passenger rail, walking, and biking is an equally important mitigation strategy, and we have several witnesses who actively work on projects to expand mode choice. H.R. 2 substantially increased investment in each of these modes, while enhancing the safety of these options.

Improved operational practices to reduce idling and traffic congestion will also help make better use of the infrastructure we have. And innovation within the construction sector to reduce or trap emissions produced throughout the lifecycle of transportation projects holds significant promise. H.R. 2 focuses heavily on the development and implementation of these technologies and practices.

Each of these ideas, taken together, can add up to a substantial difference in mitigating the effects of climate change. Yet we know that the need to adapt is very real, right now. Strengthening the ability to anticipate, withstand, and recover from natural disasters and extreme weather is a major portion of the U.S. response to the ongoing impacts of climate change. We will hear case examples from witnesses today about how these investments are no longer optional, but a necessity, and that this reality is impacting the way we build and rebuild transportation assets.

The climate is changing rapidly. Time is not on our side. This Committee intends to take bold steps again this Congress to support significant emissions reductions from the transportation sector. And support for action among the business community is growing. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently issued updated policy that states “durable climate policy must be made by Congress.” At this time, I’ll insert into the record a letter from Chamber President Suzanne Clarke submitted for this hearing in support of addressing climate change. Without objection, so ordered.

Thank you to each of our witnesses for being here today and persevering through what may be a long hearing. I know your time is valuable and this Committee is grateful for your participation. The time we invest in the discussion today, however, is nothing compared to the time on earth we stand to preserve if we get this right.