CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Tuesday of economic calamity if climate change is not addressed with immediate government intervention.
Joined by local business owners and prominent Democrats in North Carolina, Yellen said the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters could create devastating short-term supply reductions of everyday goods that could cause prices to skyrocket.
Supply chain disruptions like those experienced on a global scale during the COVID-19 pandemic could soon become commonplace, she said during a visit to Cypress Creek Renewables' solar farm in Chapel Hill.
“Here in North Carolina, you remember well the devastating toll of Hurricane Florence. That disaster killed 22 Americans. It led to $24 billion in damage and left a million North Carolinians without power," Yellen said.
As North Carolina is gearing up for several tight races in November, Yellen pitched the benefits of Democrats’ new climate, health and tax law, the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, that will spend $375 billion over the next decade on climate-related investments.
Combined with last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, the investments total more than $430 billion. The money will be spent on everything from providing tax credits to purchasers of qualifying electric vehicles to constructing clean-manufacturing facilities.
Yellen said spending will be particularly impactful in “non-coastal communities that have suffered from disinvestment."
Some North Carolinians who lost their homes in Florence in 2018 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 are still waiting on repairs or permanent housing accommodations, due in large part to supply and labor shortages brought on by the pandemic, according to the state's disaster recovery agency.
Other policies championed by President Joe Biden — including the CHIPS Act, which invests $52 billion in the domestic semiconductor industry — have focused on shoring up essential resources to reduce dependency on global manufacturers.
Yellen is the third Cabinet member to visit North Carolina in September alone, following visits from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan in Warrenton last weekend and Vice President Kamala Harris in Durham on Sept. 1.
Yellen’s visit is part of a monthlong national tour highlighting new legislation.
The Republican National Committee called Yellen’s trip to North Carolina “ironic,” accusing her of touting so-called solutions to economic problems that she and the Biden administration created, said spokeswoman Taylor Mazock.
Yellen, for her part, said the “persistent, frequent shocks” caused by climate change will put greater strains on the national budget if unaddressed. “State and local governments may increasingly be forced to devote scarce resources to disaster mitigation, potentially at the expense of investments in areas like education and worker training," she said.
Six weeks out from the midterm elections, Biden has been showering attention on the Southern swing state, where a tight U.S. Senate race could shift the power balance in the narrowly divided chamber.
The White House hosted more than 50 North Carolina leaders for a forum last week on how Biden's policies could benefit working class communities in the Tar Heel state.
And with abortion access in the spotlight, Democrats are funneling resources into North Carolina's state legislative campaigns to prevent Republicans from gaining the few seats they need to nullify the Democratic governor's veto on more stringent restrictions.
Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis criticized the Biden administration Tuesday for its “reckless” spending policies that he said have been “a disaster for North Carolina families” and the economy.
“President Biden’s answer to all of our problems has been to spend more money we don’t have on far-left priorities like green energy welfare, which will only make inflation even worse for North Carolinians,” Tillis said.
Associated Press writer Fatima Hussein contributed from Washington.
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter @H_Schoenbaum.