Rachel L. Levine is assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Under her leadership the department has begun recognizing climate change as a public health crisis, rolling out new initiatives to protect the most vulnerable Americans and helping cut emissions from the health care sector.
What is the single most important action you think the public, or a specific company or government, needs to take in the next year to advance the climate agenda?
Climate change is a public health crisis. Communities across the country are battling to keep people safe from a growing number of impacts. We launched two offices that report to me – the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity and the Office of Environmental Justice – that are helping the U.S. health sector decarbonize, take full advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act, and respond effectively to health needs. HHS is leading the charge in developing solutions and providing resources. Every dollar invested in prevention, preparation, and resilience is a vital step towards a healthier future.
What sustainability effort do you hope will gain popularity with the general public this year, and why?
My hope is for growing recognition that climate change is a public health issue, and climate action is imperative for health providers as much as anyone else. We’d like to see more organizations joining the White House-HHS Health Sector Climate Pledge, which invites the private sector to align with President Biden’s preparedness and emissions reductions goals. Over 115 organizations — including suppliers and insurers — and over 850 hospitals have joined. The majority of health care comes from the private sector, so government cannot do this alone. I am a positive and optimistic person. I believe together, we can create a healthier future.
What’s the most important climate legislation that could pass in the next year?
While some exciting legislation is pending, like the Climate Resilient Workforce Act and the Green Hospitals Act, our primary focus is on making sure that the health sector takes advantage of an existing piece of historic legislation: the Inflation Reduction Act. It provides billions of dollars in tax credits, grants, and other assistance that organizations can use to invest in clean energy, building efficiency, infrastructure resilience and more. This will make facilities — including safety net providers that serve the most vulnerable people — more sustainable and better prepared for emergencies. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by.
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