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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg talks climate change, equity

Pete Buttigieg headshot
Courtesy of SXSW

Newly appointed United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg spoke with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart on Thursday as part of South By Southwest Online’s keynote speaker sessions. He discussed how to address climate change and equity in the transportation sector. 

Buttigieg said it is past time for big infrastructure reform, and current circumstances and new technologies have brought about an opportunity for change. 

“I think we’re close to the beginning of what I’m going to call infrastructure season … There’s a combination of things happening right now, which, added up together, I think are a once-in-a-century opportunity and a once-in-a-century imperative to do big things (in transportation),” Buttigieg said. 
He said the last big move like this was the creation of the interstate highway system under former President Dwight Eisenhower, and almost a century before that, the creation of the transcontinental railroad. 

“I think this moment could be on par with those moments, to create a vision for what infrastructure needs to look like in this 21st century, that we’re already a fifth of the way through,” Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg said what this looks like concretely, as unglamorous as it may be, is fixing and improving what American already has in place. He said after that, the next step is to get ready for our climate future. 

“Transportation … has to be a part of the solution because transportation is the biggest part of the problem,” Buttigieg said. “We’re the biggest sector when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, which means improving transportation is the biggest thing we can do to get our economy on the right track.”

Buttigieg said America needs technical, political and attitude breakthroughs to address climate change. He said to help America move toward the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, we need to be competing across the political spectrum. 

“I want there to be a vigorous debate between the Republican vision for getting us to net zero by 2050 and the Democratic vision for getting us net zero by 2050,” Buttigieg said. “What we want to be arguing over is whose plan (works) best, rather than if we should do it at all.” 

Another part of Buttigieg’s vision for infrastructure in America is addressing equity, and in particular, racial inequity. He said we need to understand that many racial inequities have been physically built into our transportation systems. 

“Racial inequities were often created or worsened either by a lack of investment or by investments that took the destructive shape of a highway destroying, for example, a thriving Black neighborhood,” Buttigieg said. 

Buttigieg said the things that are physically built into the system are hard to reverse, even if there is a civil rights violation found. He said to address this, he is reinvigorating the Departmental Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Transportation. 

When he eventually leaves his job as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg said he hopes his presence helped make the 2020s a turning point in the story of American transportation. 

“I want to be able to look back and say (I) helped to make transportation a source of opportunity — and an equitable source of opportunity — and that transportation came to be known as the forefront of the solutions to climate change in our country,” Buttigieg said.

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US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg talks climate change, equity