Editor’s Note: The Climate Action Campaign’s live audio streaming on Facebook was cut off at certain points of the Q&A. 

Organized by the Climate Action Campaign, Rep. Tom O’Halleran visited NAU on April 20 to answer questions from students about the environment. The Climate Town Hall was held at the Raul H. Castro building and live streamed on Facebook

Before he began addressing questions, Rep. O’Halleran thanked the audience for being there and said he believes climate change cannot wait. 

Audience: How are you working to revitalize communities of color, Indigenous communities, that have been hit hardest by climate change?

O’Halleran: I’m on the Disparities Working Group. I work on those issues and I have been for a long time. One of the things we’ve been doing is to make sure that almost every issue we have put through Congress right now has an element there that directs money towards those communities that need, that for too long of a time, have not gotten what they need. So, we’ve brought this up as an example, it’s probably one of the easier examples, whether you’re in a city and you can’t afford to drop in or whether you’re in tribal lands or whether you’re in rural Arizona or rural America, that money is being spent here. It’s not being spent somewhere else. It’s being spent in areas of power and municipal acts.

I would like to see the highest speed as possible in metropolitan America, after we get what we need. And that’s the intent of Congress. That’s where the structure of the bill comes in. You’re trying to address the issues of poverty throughout this country. The House Committee on Agriculture, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and other programs like that, we have directed that money to make it easier to expand those programs, to get the formula to a level where people get enough food, to have the ability to have a nutritious life, make sure their children go to school and learn better, be able to identify the longer term consequences of how malnutrition impacts people, or address our food deserts throughout the rest of Arizona and throughout the world map, or even in the middle of an urban environment. 

You know I live, well, I live at The Capitol. The Capitol is two miles away from an area in Washington D.C. that has hardly any doctors, no hospitals, a couple of clinics, and they have hundreds of thousands of people within that area that have to travel. This district has, whether it’s veterans or people that are sick, and happen to choose to live in Show Low or Saint Johns or Navajo County or Hopi Reservation, if a veteran wants to have healthcare from a specialist, five hours one way, five hours again on the way back. They can’t afford to stay in Phoenix or Albuquerque or Tucson and neither can other people. So the telemedicine that’s going to come from that, and we’re working on telemedicine very hard, is to develop that. 

And there’s not one child in this country that should be having the ability to have better technology than any other child or education. And that’s what the whole issue is with broadband access. Now are they going to have it day one? Yeah, they have it now. But by the end of two years from now, fiber optics is going to be throughout Arizona. That’s because the American Rescue Plan, this state is using about $480 million right now in that plan to be able to get it up by Interstate 17 and Interstate 40 and then finally in the major state roads. And then the next bill, the Infrastructure Bill, this state is going to get an initial $100 million, and then on top of that, about $600 million more to distribute it to communities throughout rural Arizona, and use it to help people in urban areas that can’t afford at all. And it’ll bring the cost down too because there’s a reason why it’s not out here now, nobody could afford to build it, nobody could afford to pay for it. 

We’ve tried to address both of those issues. Just the educational side of that, and your ability to reach out and help other people, and get people to understand the critical nature of certain issues like climate change, is gonna be tremendous. I just had a meeting with doctors today and we were talking specifically about telemedicine and what that means. For the education of children throughout Congressional District 1, it’s an imperative. I want them to be able to live where they want to live, right now they can’t even live with their families for long because they have to go somewhere where there are good paying jobs. And we have to maintain our agriculture industry.

I have a question, a two-part question. I assume you’ve read the latest IPCC report.

I’ve read part of it, I only have a certain amount of time.

Right, OK. One of the kind of takeaway points is we, the United States, have three years to get off fossil fuels and start bringing that curve down. And yet we have a president who is releasing national reserves to bring the price of gas down but will put more carbon in the air, and who is approving more drilling on national lands for oil. It seems like, if we’ve got three years to turn things around, we don’t know who the next president is going to be, we don’t know who the next Congress is going to be, but there’s a kind of urgency to this whole thing that I don’t see anyone really talking about. 

What are you going to do, what can Congress do in the next year, if you get reelected the next three years, to make this the central issue of our time? 

Well, it should have been the central issue 15 years ago. And if we had 50 years —

But right now we’ve got three years.

Right, we just came through a pandemic. We spent over $7 trillion on that. We just had a Build Back Better Bill, that if it had gotten through, would have given us $600 billion to address this specific issue. And I voted for it. The president put it together. We wanted to get it done. 

This is from the Northern Arizona Climate Change Alliance. They ask, why is the federal government still issuing permits for fossil fuel projects? How can you potentially help to stop this?

Well, they’re issuing, mostly right now for, there’s 9,000 of them right now out there already. And what, the president has set aside the rest of federal agents to not issue anymore permits, those 9,000 were issued before. It’s 11 million acres, counting those that are in the ocean or those that are on federal lands; 11 million acres.

They already have enough, they don’t need any new permits. The natural gas permits that are out there, and that are being affected, we would probably have to go through seven years, to eight years, 10 years in court to address that issue. Versus, trying to work through, pushing our objectives and the issues into developing solar panels, wind, other sources and technology to address this issue. And chewing up money left and right and not being productive and overcoming the problem. So we’re not issuing any more, and those natural gas the ones that have been issued, those have been out there. They haven’t been issued by this administration. The administration has allowed them to occur, and a lot of that has occurred this year because we need to develop something to get Europe off of Russian oil, off Russian gas, and look to the West for a cleaner resource that furnished a whole generation with oil. 

So it’s a trade off, there’s no doubt about it. But this natural gas, is it a carbon element? Yes. Is it something that is less than coal? Yes. But we’re much better off than doing what we’re doing. We are seeing a whole new generation pay this bill in America. There’s two hundred and some of them that are going to be gone within 10 years. I mean gone. Coal mines. There’s still going to be, should be, shipping and exporting coal to China and other locations, because they already have that permit decades.

But, if we’re talking about the larger scale, our job is diplomatically to get other nations to abide by what they’ve already signed on to. And so that’s the direction I think the president’s going to go. And by the way, although it’s cut back 50% or so, plus or minus depending on how you use it, there also is money coming into our country that we can use for the purpose of building our solar panels and our wind and our technology. Versus letting Russia into it. 

We are hopeful, I’m saying a lot of folks are, that there will be a budget reconciliation package coming to you from the Senate, that may include significant climate action, for many of us that may include carbon pricing. If that comes from the Senate to the House can we count on you to support that legislation?

If we can get in on the Senate, then we’ll do it. And that’s a big if right now. We had two senators in the last two weeks say that they are not going to do a lot of the stuff that was in Build Back Better, one of them is here in Arizona. We have a Senate that is holding four hundred some bills right now. We have a Speaker of the House that has talked to the Majority of the Senate and tried to get a conference committee on that specific issue out. For those that don’t know, I am in a meeting with the Speaker and all the other leaders of other caucuses, there are seven of us, and we talk about these types of issues every Wednesday. And we are unified in trying to address that issue, and also trying to address the issue of how we are going to be able to get it on the Senate, in a bill that makes sense. But right now, we’re not going to get anywhere near $600 billion. And I have to know why, because I don’t understand myself. When we did the infrastructure bill, it’s talked about, it’s capital investment into the future of America, our children's jobs, our competition in the world and overcoming our adversaries. And we turn around, and we look at investment in climate change, which is also capital investment to a large extent, and we don’t believe we’re talking the same kind of language. And yet Toyota, I met with Toyota the other day, by 2035, their goal is to be all electric. Our goal is to make sure that those stations are in all over this country. We don’t have enough energy for it right now to be able to do that, but we will, if we invest. So we have on one side people that want to continue investing in carbon, and we have another side that says if we don’t invest in the future, we’re not going to get there fast enough to be able to offset this energy movement. So it’s a difficult situation. We got Build Back Better out of the house except for one Democrat, and 11 of those votes I had to bring to the table. So in the American Rescue Plan, you know we got no Republicans, and the infrastructure plan was called bipartisan, and there were a few there. But in this state, no Republicans voted. Not one of the four. 

The next question comes from an anonymous source in this room. What resources or future plans do you have to prevent the flooding of the Rio de Flag which impacts low income neighborhoods here in Southside?

We got you those resources about three months ago. We got $7 million dollars for the fires up there and the city’s working on those now. Rio de Flag, I believe, we were able to get $27 million to get what was a project of that size moved, with inflation that’s going to be more, so we’re trying to get additional money with that. But all that construction you’ve seen over by city hall and the parcels that have been purchased and everything else, it's already in the process. That is being resolved and will continue being resolved. 

The next question is from one of our audience and they’re specifically looking at agriculture and how the growing of animals is extremely taxing in terms of carbon emission. Are there any plans to address agriculture’s impact on the environment?

In dairy farms, there is a number of dairy farms in southern Arizona that, they take manure and volatiles, and they develop that into a natural gas, not a methane. They changed that and put it into natural gas. And they send it to Los Angeles, to pipelines down there that go straight to Los Angeles, and to their fleet of vehicles down there that are transportation and have other uses, to be able to lower their footprint. Methane is a terrible, terrible thing. And we have basically one horse that’s so profoundly wrong in the Senate.

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