OpEd: Rice, Long Island Needs You to Vote Yes on Climate Action 

US Capitol Building. (Getty Images)

Far too many times, Long Island has made national headlines for the storms and hurricanes our community has weathered. Our homes, schools, and neighborhoods have been laid to waste from destructive disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the deadly remnants of Tropical Storm Ida this past summer. With each devastating occurrence and the subsequent economic hardships, household losses, and — most gravely — fatalities suffered, residents wonder: how could this have been prevented?

The answer lies in a bill being debated in Congress at this very moment: the Build Back Better Act (BBB). If passed, this comprehensive legislation would be the largest effort to combat climate change in American history. Moreover, it would also remove dangerous lead pipes, curb air pollution, create millions of good-paying jobs, provide free preschool education, expand access to public transit and affordable housing, lower the cost of prescription drugs, and more.

Passing such a bill should be a no-brainer. Yet Long Island’s own Rep. Kathleen Rice has been among the few Democratic lawmakers standing in the way of getting this wildly popular and much-needed legislation passed. Last Friday, Rep. Rice, along with four other conservative House Democrats who have been holding up the bill, finally pledged to vote in favor of Build Back Better — without watering it down — after receiving fiscal information from the Congressional Budget Office. Rep. Rice, it’s past time you seal the deal and vote yes on this once-in-a-century legislation. Long Islanders are depending on you.

The Build Back Better Act is the climate legislation we need right now. Historic storms and coastal flooding are now happening regularly, while our beautiful coastline is eroding at a rapid clip. Recently, we marked the nine-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which decimated coastal communities — many of our neighbors are still rebuilding from this catastrophe. The bill would not only tackle the source of the climate crisis by transitioning to clean energy to power our homes, businesses and vehicles; it would also invest in coastal resiliency, create millions of jobs in the renewable energy sector, and reduce toxic air pollution from diesel trucks and buses.

Build Back Better also would provide unprecedented support for working families, which need leaders to provide them with opportunities to thrive. Long before Covid-19, families were reeling from the  high cost of child care, medication, housing and transportation. Accessing these essential services has become even more of a burden since the pandemic. Build Back Better is the most transformative investment in caregiving in generations, funding universal Pre-K and monthly Child Tax Credits of $250 to $300, per child. Build Back Better would also fund more than a million affordable and sustainable homes, as well as expand and electrify public transit. And perhaps the best part: the whole bill would be fully paid for by wealthy individuals and corporations. Long Islanders who make less than $400,000 a year won’t see their taxes raised by a penny.

In short, Build Back Better will lead to unprecedented investments for Long Island communities. That is why it is bewildering that Rep. Rice is among the few lawmakers holding up the passage of this bill. Any honorable leader who is committed to protecting their constituents should not have to think twice about supporting this legislation and investing in the middle class. Between the pandemic and the onslaught of hurricanes, Long Island knows how a single travesty can create a domino effect of tragedies. Now, Rep. Rice has to ensure we can support ourselves and our families through both good and bad times.

Climate change is here, and any further inaction from lawmakers could put us in grave jeopardy. We need those we voted into office to act with urgency for our children, our families, and our communities. Rep. Rice, we’re counting on you to vote “yes” on Build Back Better — Long Islanders’ lives depend on it.

Lisa Tyson is the director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition and a constituent of Rep. Kathleen Rice.

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