Center for American Progress Action

Earth Day Special: Trevor Higgins on Combating Climate Change
Part of a Series

Trevor Higgins, senior vice president of Energy and Environment at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, joins the show to discuss Earth Day, recent climate policy wins from the Biden administration, and how to save our planet. Daniella and Colin also talk about two sets of oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this week and speak with Akua Amaning, director of Criminal Justice Reform at CAP Action, about Second Chance Month.


Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger.

Colin Seeberger: And I’m Colin Seeberger. Daniella, I hear Washington, D.C., suffered a big loss this week. We lost a chain of markets, or cafes, this week, and I don’t know about you, if you were a fan of Foxtrot, but I’m pretty broken up about it.

Gibbs Léger: Are you, though? I thought you were the king of Tatte, no?

Seeberger: Oh, I’m fully here for it. Anna Spiegel, who’s a D.C. reporter at Axios, former food editor of the Washingtonian, said that the “Tattetorship” is here. But I am sad that there seems to be an epidemic going on among foxes in D.C. We first lost Little Red Fox in upper Northwest.

Gibbs Léger: Yes.

Seeberger: We have now lost all the Foxtrots.

Gibbs Léger: I think I’m part of the problem, because I never went once.

Seeberger: They’re cool places, but they’re a little confusing in terms of how they’re set up and they work. I saw somebody was like, “I went in there one time. I didn’t know what a sandwich cost, and so I just left.” Which, I feel like is kind of the perfect encapsulation of the problems with Foxtrot. But nonetheless, if any of our listeners are also mourning the fall of Foxtrot, maybe this podcast will cheer you up. I hear you had a great conversation this week.

Gibbs Léger: That is absolutely right. I spoke with Trevor Higgins, who is the senior vice president of Energy and Environment at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. We talked about Earth Day, the state of the climate movement—spoiler alert: It’s strong—and the Biden administration’s leadership on climate action at home and abroad.

Seeberger: It sounds like a great and super timely conversation this week. But first, we’ve got to get to some news.

Gibbs Léger: We do, and it is a big week over at the Supreme Court.

Seeberger: Indeed.

Gibbs Léger: Yes, the extreme far-right Supreme Court is once again hearing a case that could further roll back the rights and freedoms of the American people—their favorite pastime.

Seeberger: It does seem that way.

Gibbs Léger: Since they overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, a number of states have introduced extreme abortion bans, including one in Idaho that criminalizes nearly all forms of abortion, with a few exceptions.

Radical politicians in the state are challenging a federal law called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, that requires hospitals to provide abortion care to pregnant people in emergency situations. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Seeberger: Yeah. I mean, sounds pretty straightforward to me.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case on Wednesday, and a majority of the radical justices seemed to agree with Idaho’s challenge. Terrifying and discouraging, but not surprising from this activist court. And listen, Colin, here’s what this could mean. Doctors in Idaho currently face an untenable choice: withhold critical, lifesaving treatment as required under federal law or risk criminal prosecution and lose their ability to practice medicine in the state. Because of the state’s extreme abortion ban, Idaho women experiencing pregnancy complications are now literally having to be airlifted out of the state—

Seeberger: Like, a helicopter?

Gibbs Léger: —yes, like a helicopter, literally—to receive the medical care that they need. This is some truly dystopian stuff we’re seeing here. But it’s not just about Idaho. If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, this decision would apply to every state because it’s a challenge to federal law. That means that any legislature dominated by radical lawmakers could do something just like this, even if voters fought to ensure abortion remains legal in their state.

The women justices were the only ones who really seemed to understand the steep consequences this could have for women’s health and safety across the country, and the ways in which a ban like Idaho’s contradicts the intentions of the EMTALA law. Knowing that this is the same court that overturned Roe v. Wade less than two years ago, I’m really concerned about what we might hear from the Supreme Court this summer when they hand down a decision in this case.

Seeberger: It’s incredibly troubling. It’s frankly gut-wrenching to think that women who are experiencing really life-threatening medical conditions could be denied basic health care just because of where they live, right?

Gibbs Léger: Yeah.

Seeberger: It’s just outrageous. Now, Daniella, that was of course not the only case before the Supreme Court this week. The court is also, actually, expected to hear oral arguments in another case, this one about whether Donald Trump is immune from prosecution for his role in the January 6 insurrection.

So, let’s just set this straight, Daniella: This should be a unanimous decision.

Gibbs Léger: It should.

Seeberger: You would think being elected is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, right? No one is above the law, not even a former president. Trump’s argument that presidents can’t be held criminally liable for any illegal actions they take while in office is absurd—literally. I mean, there’s just countless legal scholars that are like, “This is just an absolutely outrageous, ridiculous interpretation of the Constitution.” And it’s why the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals already unanimously ruled against his argument—and that included even conservative Judge Karen Henderson.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah.

Seeberger: The Supreme Court needs to act here, and they need to do so quickly. The longer the presidential immunity challenge drags out before the high court, the longer it delays Trump’s trial in the D.C. District Court before Judge Tanya Chutkan over his role in the January 6 insurrection. And clearly, this is a matter of grave importance to the upcoming election. The American people deserve to know the full extent of Donald Trump’s actions leading up to and during the insurrection so they can have all the relevant facts and information they need before casting their votes this fall. As our colleague Michael Podhorzer recently said in his newsletter, the only reason that voters might not hear a verdict in Trump’s January 6 trial is because this court’s extremist majority doesn’t want them to.

That’s unacceptable. And it’s also, frankly, the most anti-democratic move that the court has made, perhaps ever. And that includes its anti-democratic opinions like Bush v. Gore from a few decades ago. So that is really what we’re talking about here. But you don’t just have to take my word for it, because even prominent Republicans like [former Rep.] Liz Cheney (R-WY) agree. She penned a whole op-ed in The New York Times this week, arguing that the court not only reject this argument, but that they do it quickly.

I don’t always agree with her on policy, but in this instance, she’s right on the money. And let’s not forget: In the days following the January 6 insurrection, it was Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) himself who pointed to the criminal justice system and said Trump’s actions were a matter for the courts. It’s one of the main reasons why Mitch McConnell and dozens of Senate Republicans didn’t want to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial—because they thought it was a matter better suited for the criminal justice system.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, you know it’s a weak and wacky argument when Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell and I agree that something is absurd.

Seeberger: No doubt. No doubt.

Gibbs Léger: Well, I want to move to a different topic within the judicial system. April is Second Chance Month, and here to tell us what that means and why it matters is Akua Amaning, director of Criminal Justice at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Akua, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Akua Amaning: Thanks for having me today.

Gibbs Léger: So, first, can you tell us what is Second Chance Month and why do we observe it?

Amaning: Second Chance Month falls in April, and it’s an opportunity for us to recognize the barriers that arise for returning individuals who are coming from prison and jail and trying to rehabilitate themselves and reenter their communities.

Often, we see that many people who are returning to their communities have barriers to things like education, housing, employment—things that you really need to survive and live a successful future in America. So it’s an opportunity for us to look at those barriers, but then also think about ways that we can remove those barriers, provide supports for people who need it the most.

Seeberger: Last year, we had Sheena Meade on from the Clean Slate Initiative to talk about some of the barriers that you referenced and policy opportunities to address them. What’s changed since last year? Are we seeing improvements, positive steps that are being made for formerly incarcerated individuals?

Amaning: Yeah, I think we’re definitely seeing some improvements. But then we’re also seeing some things stay the same, right? So on the positive side of things, we’re seeing a lot of people advocating for things like removal of bans to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] and TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] benefits for people with drug-related convictions, access to Medicaid as well. And then, of course, one issue area that we really focus on is around record-clearance opportunities, including automated expungement—which 12 states have now passed—called “clean slate” measures.

So clean slate opportunities allow people to have their record expunged when eligible after a certain period of time. And so this allows them to have more opportunities to employment and receiving housing and education opportunities as well. Again, 12 states have now passed clean slate. One of the first to do it—well, actually, the first to do it—was Pennsylvania back in 2018. And this last year, they’ve expanded their clean slate measures to include other eligible convictions and to reduce some of the waiting periods in Pennsylvania. So they’ve seen millions of people being able to clear some of their records and have an opportunity. And then even states like Michigan, they started their implementation phase last year and have cleared millions of records—close to 1.5 million records in this last year alone. So really big wins at the state level.

Seeberger: That’s great. And it’s obviously a testament—the fact that you’ve got more states that are doing this and states that are building on their initial steps—they’re clearly seeing some proof that these changes in the laws are actually better supporting people upon reentry into society.

Amaning: Definitely. And also a really great thing about policy measures like this is that we’re seeing a lot of bipartisan efforts working towards things like record expungement.

Seeberger: Yeah, bringing in different communities like the faith community or businesses or others.

Amaning: Absolutely.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah, that’s really great. Especially at a time where there’s not much that can bring all people together, it’s really been remarkable to see the groundswell of support for this initiative. And a lot of this work started here at CAP, so that’s really pretty amazing. So as we look ahead to the future and thinking about the challenges that still exist, what other change do you want to see to create more second chances for people?

Amaning: Well, there’s a lot that we can still be doing, especially at the federal level. So going back to clean slate—we don’t have an expungement measure at the federal level right now. So passing the Clean Slate Act could be a really great first step. And then also, a lot of directly impacted individuals are dealing with mental health and substance use issues that, really, they need support and treatment opportunities for. And then things like fair chance hiring opportunities—so, providing licensing measures and things like ban the box—that would eliminate the use of an individual’s record in the hiring process can be extremely helpful for those who need it.

Seeberger: So you’re saying repealing health care and making it harder to get access to substance use treatment is not the direction that we’re looking to go?

Amaning: That’s definitely not where we’re trying to go, no.

Seeberger: Got it. Akua, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Amaning: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Seeberger: Well, that’s all the time we have for today. If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter, @TheTentPod. That’s @TheTentPod.

Gibbs Léger: And stick around for my interview with Trevor Higgins in just a beat.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: Trevor Higgins is the senior vice president of Energy and Environment at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. He previously worked as a legislative assistant for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on energy, transportation, and climate policy. Prior to that, he was a presidential management fellow with the U.S. Department of Energy and also worked in the House. Trevor, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Trevor Higgins: Thanks, Daniella. I’m happy to be here.

Gibbs Léger: So, this past Monday was Earth Day. Why is this holiday important, and why do we celebrate it?

Higgins: So they started celebrating Earth Day in 1970, which was a time when Rachel Carson had just written Silent Spring, the Congress was just about to enact the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, the EPA was just being created. So it was a time of really exciting response to some really hard and difficult problems, and it has resonated with people ever since. And this Earth Day, I think, is especially worth celebrating because we are seeing the culmination of an agenda for taking action on climate change and conservation that has been decades in the making.

And it’s pretty exciting when you step back and think about just how much has been accomplished, from implementing investments in clean energy and manufacturing, to deploying $7 billion in funding for new solar panels on rooftops, to creating an American Climate Corps, conserving land and water, rewriting the rules on how public lands are managed—I could go on and on.

Gibbs Léger: We are definitely going to get into some of that in a minute. But scientists are constantly expressing concern about the trajectory of our climate, and it feels like this year, especially, we’re starting to see more tangible impacts of climate change: record-breaking heat, wildfires, extreme weather, natural disasters, the list goes on.

So have these trends accelerated, will they continue to do so, and why is it so important that we try to reverse them?

Higgins: Last year, we saw a record-breaking 28 billion-dollar disasters in the country.

Gibbs Léger: With a “B.”

Higgins: That’s right. And these disasters are not only happening more frequently, they are happening in a more extreme way, and they’re all happening at the same time. And so you’ve got wildfires burning in California, causing smoke that covers the northeast of the country, at the same time as floods are happening in the Midwest. Wildfires not even in a forest, but on the brush in Texas. All of this happening basically at the same time. It’s gotten people to notice.

In fact, new surveys show that half of Americans experienced one of these events last year—one of these extreme weather events.

Gibbs Léger: Wow.

Higgins: It’s just extraordinary. And, if you stop to think about it, it can be a little overwhelming. Because it is going to get worse. This summer is likely going to be even worse than last summer.

And it can be scary to think about where this trend is going. But the good news is that there really is an opportunity to stop and fight and change the trajectory that this world is on before it becomes so disruptive that it’s really affecting all of America.

Gibbs Léger: Well, let’s talk about that. The Biden administration has been one of the most effective at passing legislation to address climate change—so much so that it’s kind of hard to keep track of all the policy wins that we have seen. So can you break down some of the greatest progress we’ve made on climate in the past few years, and how is it making an impact?

Higgins: Yeah, absolutely. There has been so much to talk about here. I think it starts with the major pieces of legislation that the 117th Congress passed.

That includes the bipartisan infrastructure law to rebuild roads and bridges and also invest in wildfire resilience and flood control. And it went on from there to include the Inflation Reduction Act, which is a bit of a funny name for what, at its heart, is really a climate bill that includes massive new investments in American manufacturing for clean energy, for the deployments of wind and solar, for cleaning up communities at the front line of fossil fuel pollution.

And it’s extraordinary how much this adds up to. If I can step back for a second— when President [Barack] Obama was in office, he had a really ambitious goal to tackle climate change. And it would have cut U.S. emissions up to 80 percent of our peak levels by 2050. And it turns out that was a little too slow.

And then there was a massive setback. And the Trump administration came in and rolled back a lot of progress. We lost a lot of time. Other countries reacted and slowed their progress. And now the Biden administration has come in and said, “Not only are we going to make up for lost time, we’re going to cut our greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of the century.”

So that’s four times the pace of progress. And with these new laws and the standards that the administration is rolling out this week as part of Earth Day, we are actually on target to make it possible for the United States to reach those goals and to help the rest of the world achieve their goals so that we can stop climate change at around 1.5 degrees of warming.

Gibbs Léger: Wow. That is incredible news. But on the flip side, we have some extreme lawmakers that are calling to reverse many of the measures that you mentioned. For example, many want to overturn the Inflation Reduction Act or withdraw the U.S. again from the Paris climate agreement. Now, what would happen if those efforts prove successful?

Higgins: Right. The Inflation Reduction Act was passed with a zero-vote margin in the Senate and with only a seven-vote margin in the House—every Democrat voting for them, every Republican voting against them. And House Republicans in this last, most recent Congress have already voted 31 times to try to overturn parts of the Inflation Reduction Act.

If those laws were to be repealed like that, it would undercut the investments that have already been set in motion. When you look, for example, just at one subsector: battery manufacturing. In the year after the Inflation Reduction Act was passed, battery investments in the United States tripled. And that is key for our competitiveness with China.

It’s not only used in electric vehicles, but in stabilizing the grid and improving reliability. And if the incentives that justified and supported those investments were to be yanked back, that entire industry could collapse. The story can be told—everything from car manufacturing, where we’re seeing new gains for union workers, to clean energy deployment like the rooftop solar installers that are going to get to work on the new solar program that was just announced on Monday—all of these jobs and these benefits for people depend on a long-term commitment to supporting the investments that the administration and the previous Congress made possible.

Gibbs Léger: So not only is the Biden administration leading the charge on climate change here at home, they’re doing it abroad too. So can you talk about the role that the U.S. played on the international stage this past year when it comes to climate action?

Higgins: So as everyone probably knows, the United States is the largest historical contributor to climate change, but not the current greatest greenhouse gas emitter. That’s China right now. And China is continuing to grow and to develop.

And it has been very difficult to get China to grapple with its own emissions trajectory. I think in a little-noticed moment, the Biden administration brought the president of China to San Francisco for a conference.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah.

Higgins: And they had a major agreement where China committed for the first time to make pledges that will cover their entire economy and see absolute reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions that is turning around their trajectory.

That’s something that [shows] the real leadership of this administration. They took seriously what it means to show up on the international stage. They were able to deliver. And they took that momentum with them into the major climate conference this year, which was in Dubai, the center of an oil-producing region.

Gibbs Léger: Right.

Higgins: And they were able to turn global negotiators—with the support of the administration—were able to turn that entire conference around and get for the first time ever a commitment from all the countries of the United Nations to start phasing down fossil fuel use. In 30 years of climate change conferences, we’ve never been able to name fossil fuels as the contributor to climate change. And here we’re able to do that even in the midst of a fossil fuel-producing country.

So the opportunity to turn what the United States is building with these investments in American manufacturing into global action is something that I think everyone should be pretty excited about. But it depends on maintaining that commitment to still seeing U.S. leadership abroad.

Gibbs Léger: So I want to finish with something a little personal, if I may. Look, I’m going to be honest: This movement feels very urgent to me. As a mom, I do worry about the future that we are leaving our children. So as a fellow parent, how does ensuring a clean and safe future for our kids motivate your work in this space?

Higgins: It really does make such a difference when you start thinking about it in terms of your own family like that. I’ve got three little kids, and I firmly believe they deserve a shot at a healthy, stable climate for their future. And they shouldn’t be worried about this stuff. They should be out there playing soccer, right?

But they do. They saw the smoke this summer, and they felt what it meant to breathe. And their summer camps over the summer couldn’t go outside. It was too hot for parts of it. And we’re only in 2023 right now. So we have to be committed to stabilizing temperatures—and not just for our kids, but children in India, in Africa, in Brazil. They’re going to be much more exposed on the front lines of a changing climate, even than our own children. And it’s really important, I think, that we commit the resources now, because our generation has an opportunity to change the trajectory in a way that future generations won’t. So when it comes to doing my work and asking the kids to wait one more minute for dinner, it’s really important to remember just how much every minute of activity we can put into this today matters for their future.

Gibbs Léger: That’s right. Daddy’s working on saving your future, be right down. Well, Trevor, I want to thank you for all the work that you do and thank you for joining us on “The Tent.”

Higgins: It was my pleasure. Thanks, Daniella.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: All right, folks, that’s it for us today. As always, please be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. But before we leave, Colin, I heard that perhaps some new music got released.

Seeberger: Yeah, Daniella, it’s only the biggest news event of the last week. Of course, talking about the release of “The Tortured Poets Department” from Taylor Swift.

Gibbs Léger: OK, so you are a Swiftie. I am Swiftie-adjacent because of Travis Kelce.

Seeberger: I mean, all of America is Swiftie-adjacent at this point, yes.

Gibbs Léger: That is very true.

Seeberger: Whether they like it or not.

Gibbs Léger: What were your initial thoughts?

Seeberger: I loved this album because, one, the lyrics are just absolutely incredible, a work of art. And I think she has such incredible, incredible talents as a writer. And I feel like for a long time that was kind of always a secondary trait of hers. Like, people either thought, “Oh, she’s a good singer, she’s a good performer,” or whatever. But her writing really, I think, takes center stage in this album. And I also felt like I was getting little bits of previous albums sprinkled in throughout the album.

It was like its own little “Eras Tour” for me—save for my favorite, which is “Lover.” So I’m holding out hope that the next album is going to be about her and Travis Kelce and is going to be really fun and exciting.

Gibbs Léger: Well, there were two songs on here that were supposed to be about Travis, right?

Seeberger: Yeah, that’s right.

Gibbs Léger: “So High School,” I think, and then “[The] Alchemy” or something like that?

Seeberger: Yeah.

Gibbs Léger: People are so mean online. They’re like, “Travis can’t spell ‘alchemy.’” He’s not dumb. I mean, no.

Seeberger: No, he’s just not a poet.

Gibbs Léger: Exactly. Leave that man alone.

Seeberger: Yes. Anybody who has watched his podcast would know that he is not a literary genius, but he is a sweet, sweet boy.

Gibbs Léger: Exactly. So I have not listened to the entire album because—or two albums—because that’s a lot.

Seeberger: You might need a fortnight for that.

Gibbs Léger: Oh, I see what you did there. “Fortnight” is the first single. I do like that song, and I like the video.

Seeberger: It’s good.

Gibbs Léger: It’s good. And it’s very catchy. Post Malone, I feel like, has been forced upon me now, first through Kidz Bop and then through his song with Beyoncé, “Levii’s Jeans,” which I do like a lot. And now this song. I’m like, “Do I like Post Malone now?”

Seeberger: Post Malone: He’s popping up everywhere.

Gibbs Léger: I don’t know. I like the folks who are saying that this album is really for her and her fans. Like, if you’re not a Taylor Swift fan, this may not be your cup of tea. But it’s the albums that she had to write.

Seeberger: Yeah.

Gibbs Léger: And people are speculating that she will not perform these songs on tour. It’s like this is a chapter of her life that’s over, and now she’s able to move forward.

Seeberger: I hope she does. Because some of them are just incredibly beautiful, and I will be at the concert crying in the corner as she’s singing “Down Bad,” which is one of my faves. Also love “Guilty as Sin?” or since it’s Second Chance Month, “Fresh Out The Slammer.” I feel like this one’s gotten some mixed views, but I love “The Tortured Poets Department.” I think it’s fun.

Gibbs Léger: Well, you know what, Colin? That’s all that matters to me—

Seeberger: That is all that matters.

Gibbs Léger: —is that you like it. Exactly.

Seeberger: Thank you, Daniella.

Gibbs Léger: You’re welcome. All right, folks. I hope if you are out there enjoying your Taylor Swift or whatever music you love, that you’re taking care of yourselves. The allergies are still allergying ridiculous amounts right now.

Seeberger: Yeah, we’re waffling from winter, fall, spring, summer, winter.

Gibbs Léger: Exactly. Fall, summer, fall, spring. It’s all coming. It’s going to be 90 degrees next week.

Seeberger: Yeah.

Gibbs Léger: Too soon. I don’t need that right now.

Seeberger: We certainly do not.

Gibbs Léger: No, we don’t. So anyway, stay weather alert, friends, and we’ll talk to you next week.

“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger, and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer, Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer, Mishka Espey is our booking producer, and Muggs Leone is our digital producer. Hai Phan, Matthew Gossage, Olivia Mowry, and Toni Pandolfo are our Video team. You can find us on YouTube, Apple, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Daniella Gibbs Léger

Executive Vice President, Communications and Strategy


Colin Seeberger

Senior Adviser, Communications

Erin Phillips

Broadcast Media Manager

Kelly McCoy

Senior Director of Broadcast Communications

Mishka Espey

Senior Manager, Media Relations

Muggs Leone

Executive Assistant



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Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.


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