At a recent virtual town hall hosted by EDF Action, the advocacy partner of EDF, Transportation Secretary Buttigieg spoke with EDF political affairs director Elizabeth Gore about climate change, climate action and being a sleep-deprived new dad. Here’s an edited excerpt of their conversation.
EG: Why is transportation so important in the fight against climate change?
PB: When you look at the U.S. economy, transportation accounts for the largest share of our greenhouse gas emissions. To me, that means transportation ought to be responsible for the biggest share of the solution. There’s a lot in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will help us do that, like the emphasis on electric vehicles.
EG: What’s one way that law will cut our emissions?
PB: We think the EV revolution will happen no matter what, but it’s not guaranteed to happen in time to help us meet our climate challenge. That's why policy matters. We are investing in a nationwide EV charging network — 500,000 stations by the end of the decade. So wherever you live, wherever you’re headed, you can be as confident about filling up your EV as somebody is today driving a gas-powered vehicle. This is a classic example of good policy that can drive good environmental outcomes.
EG: What technologies can accelerate the transition to clean transportation?
PB: EVs get the most attention. They’re one of the most powerful tools we have, and that’s why we’re trying to drive the price down and make sure everyone can get charging. But some of it is unsexy stuff like air traffic control, that can reduce aviation emissions 15%. There’s technology that allows you to plug in a cargo ship at berth instead of running the engine. We can rebalance Amtrak and cargo train schedules to make trains a more reliable option for people. So it’s making better use of technology we’ve already got, as well as cultivating the technology we envision for the future, like sustainable fuels.
EG: Looking ahead, how can our members and partners help the country continue to make climate progress?
PB: Don’t underestimate the role you’ve already played. Your voice, your advocacy, your credibility has made a big difference in getting the infrastructure law passed. I really am thankful for that and I know the president is as well. Also, recognize the power and importance of the local. Most of the dollars my agency sends out will be spent by state and local authorities. Those neighbor-to-neighbor and community conversations are really powerful, alongside the federal advocacy that’s creating such a wind at our backs.
EG: Over the last two years you’ve been appointed to the cabinet and adopted baby twins — Joseph and Penelope — all during a global pandemic. What’s the secret of your success, and how do you look so rested?
PB: Rest is a distant memory! But there’s nothing like holding a newborn child in your arms to remind you of what matters. I was at an event in New Hampshire where someone said, “I’m not the mother I wish I was because of this commute.” At moments like that you realize this is not about dollars and cents, or minutes and seconds. It’s about the way we relate to the people we love most. That’s what’s at stake in transportation policy. In climate policy. There are people growing up into a world that will irreversibly bear the results of what we’re doing right this minute. That’s what propels me through, and I imagine, most of you too.