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As lawmakers in Washington continue to negotiate over an infrastructure bill that Democrats say needs to include major new funding to address the climate crisis, much of the U.S. is experiencing record heat, with many western states seeing record temperatures, drought and water shortages. "The climate crisis is here now," says climate and energy researcher Leah Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The climate crisis is really happening right now, and every single year we delay on passing a climate bill, the worse the crisis gets."
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonza'lez.
President Joe Biden is planning to meet with lawmakers in a push to reach a bipartisan agreement on a new infrastructure plan. The group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators recently proposed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, but many Democrats have criticized the deal for not doing enough to address the climate crisis, among other issues. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are considering a $6 trillion package that could be passed through the reconciliation process if all 50 Democrats agree to vote for it.
The debate over infrastructure and combating the climate emergency comes as western states are facing daily reminders of the crisis, including drought, water shortages and extreme heat. Many cities have already broken all-time heat records even though it's still June. Last week, Phoenix recorded five days in a row of temperatures over 115 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever. Santa Fe, New Mexico, tied its all-time high of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Forecasters are predicting it could hit 110 degrees next week in Portland, Oregon. About 26% of the West is experiencing exceptional drought. Water levels at Lake Mead have dropped to their lowest levels ever recorded.
We're joined right now by Leah Stokes. She's an assistant professor of political science at University of California, Santa Barbara, researcher on climate and energy policy. She's the author of Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us, Professor Stokes. So, talk about the desperate situation, the drought in the West, and how that links, very practically, to this debate over infrastructure spending.
LEAH STOKES: Well, I think you talked about it at the top of the segment here. You know, the reality is, it's not just the West that's in a debate. It's really about half of the entire country that is facing really a historic drought. Scientists are saying that in some parts of the West they're seeing a drought that's worse than we've seen in, you know, something like four centuries.
So, the fact is that the climate crisis is here now. The drought, the heat waves that you talked about, setting record temperatures all across the western United States, and really even reaching into parts of the Midwest, these are the signatures of climate change. And the fact is that the climate crisis is on our doorstep.
And the question is: What are we going to do about it? Are we going to continue to talk about having infrastructure day or infrastructure week for another four years, or are we actually going to see Congress act and pass a bold climate package this summer?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor, you've said that the Biden administration and the Senate and House Democrats are committed to true climate action. But how do you see this playing out, given the clear Republican resistance? What do you think is doable? And of the stuff that's not doable, what kind of public pressure needs to come on Washington to get it done?
LEAH STOKES: Well, I think you're right that we need to keep the public pressure up. I noticed at the top of the hour you talked about Sunrise's marches, which have been happening in both California and across the Gulf Coast. You know, there have been lots of actions, whether that's against Line 3 or for these kinds of infrastructure negotiations, that have been trying to raise awareness of lawmakers of just how urgent the climate crisis is. And we really need to keep that up.
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