Originally published in the Arizona Daily Star.
Making history isn’t always a good thing. Last week, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives seemed determined to prove that point. For the first time in more than a century, the Republican-controlled House failed not once, not twice, but 14 times to take the most basic first step of a new Congress — electing a Speaker of the House.
The Republican Party’s infighting has inspired entertaining social media memes, but if you’re hoping for them to do anything more than that, there’s very little to be excited about with a Republican House for the next two years. This is especially true for Arizonans, who are facing permanent drought and desperately need Congress to take serious climate action now.
Fortunately, congressional Democrats took our charge to act on climate seriously in the previous Congress. Working with the Biden administration, we passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $370 billion in funding to fight climate change, the country’s most meaningful investment in climate action ever. As then-Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, I pushed hard to make sure the bill would help protect the water supply for Arizonans and other westerners, including tribes who are being hit especially hard by climate change. After all was said and done, the Inflation Reduction Act included a monumental $4 billion to do just that.
And we didn’t stop there. This past December, Democrats put their heads down and worked to pass major bipartisan legislative packages into law, including the mandatory defense bill and government funding bill (also called the omnibus) for 2023. While this legislation doesn’t automatically bring climate action to mind, Democrats understand that the wide-reaching impacts of the climate crisis require an across-the-board approach to fight it. Between those two massive efforts, we got a total of 80 Natural Resources Committee bills and other provisions signed into law, many of which will protect the health of our public lands and waters, a key factor in preventing and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change.
In that same month, my committee sent an additional 27 Natural Resources bills to the president’s desk for signing into law. Three of those bills—Sen. Kelly’s Colorado River Indian Tribes Water Resiliency Act and two bills that enact and clarify water rights for the White Mountain Apache and the Hualapai Tribes, respectively—will help tribes and surrounding communities deal with the permanently decreasing water supply in Arizona and beyond.
We also secured legislation and millions in funding for southern Arizona. The Old Pascua Community Land Acquisition Act was signed into law, which will grant the Pascua Yaqui Tribe the authority to provide job opportunities and protect their cultural and religious areas. The omnibus also included $14 million in funding for 15 community projects and investments to stimulate local Arizonan economies, invest in sustainable infrastructure, create good-paying jobs, and provide community development and recreation. These projects include the El Pueblo Center Revitalization Project, renovations for the Mission Manor Aquatic Complex, childcare transportation for the YMCA of Southern Arizona and more.
In another win for Indian Country, we also secured advanced funding for the Indian Health Service, the only federal healthcare provider that lacks consistent funding. This funding will help keep healthcare services in Indian Country consistent, even during government shutdowns.
Thanks to the support of advocates all over the country, the bipartisan National Heritage Area Act was another one of the bills that was passed into law last month. National Heritage Areas, like the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area in southern Arizona, protect and preserve historical resources that celebrate the stories and contributions of diverse communities, helping us tell a more complete American history. This new law recognizes the importance of these networks and provides the continuity and stability they need to thrive.
All told, the Democratic-controlled Congress passed more than 100 Natural Resources bills and provisions into law in December. These new laws will take concrete action against climate change and the permanent aridification of our state; preserve tribal cultural and religious areas and uplift tribal sovereignty and self-governance; and help protect our public lands, oceans, waters, and wildlife for our younger generations in Arizona and the rest of the country.
Of course, even with all of this progress, we know there is so much more that needs to be done to ensure the health of our planet and our future. And there’s no doubt that Democrats and Republicans will need to come together to do that over the next two years, given the divided Congress. But shamefully, it looks like we can’t even count on Republicans to work things out amongst themselves.