Talberth & Wysham: Toward a Green New Deal that works for Oregon
As legislators in Salem work on Oregon's version of a cap and trade program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from a limited subset of polluters, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and her allies in Congress are moving ahead with a much more comprehensive approach to tackle the challenge of climate change while expediting a just transition to a low-carbon economy — the Green New Deal.
Because of the scale of the climate problem, Oregon and other state and local governments must also do their share by embracing all of the critical climate policy tools that have taken a back seat to cap and trade while it has commandeered the limelight.
What would a comprehensive Green New Deal for Oregon look like?
In January, a coalition of grassroots and environmental justice organizations centered around the Oregon Just Transition Alliance began to answer this question by releasing an Oregon Green New Deal platform. The Center for Sustainable Economy has endorsed this platform and in a recent policy brief, "Beyond Cap and Trade: A Green New Deal for Oregon," identified 11 measures that should be embraced quickly during the 2019 legislative session. These include measures to halt expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, build a climate-resilient workforce, ensure that polluters and not taxpayers shoulder the costs of climate change, and ensure that all greenhouse gas emissions are monitored and regulated. They include measures to make climate-smart practices the law and expedite the transformation of carbon-intensive agricultural practices to regenerative alternatives that build soil carbon while producing healthy, plant-based foods.
An Oregon Green New Deal should also halt urban sprawl and the endless expansions of highways that fuel it, expedite the transition to 100 percent renewable energy and ensure that any project authorized or funded by public agencies minimizes climate impacts. And it will provide support to consumers dedicated to adopting more responsible lifestyles by subsidizing the purchase of low-carbon goods and services while penalizing high-carbon choices like gas-guzzling vehicles and oversized homes with climate impact fees.
Finally, an Oregon Green New Deal will rescind or redirect hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies that are now helping to accelerate climate change and undermine Oregon's climate agenda.
For example, according to Oregon's biennial tax expenditure report, the timber industry receives over $300 million a year in subsidies with nothing asked for in return. These subsidies help fuel clearcutting, new logging roads, timber plantations and heavy doses of chemicals and fertilizers — practices that represent Oregon's number-one source of greenhouse gas emissions. These practices also undermine resiliency to climate change by making our drinking watersheds more susceptible to fires, droughts, toxic algal blooms, landslides and floods.
A more rational system would be to make receipt of these subsidies by landowners contingent upon climate-smart forest management practices and the maintenance of healthy forest cover on their lands. Redirecting subsidies this way has the co-benefit of creating thousands of new jobs in rural communities and making the land less vulnerable to fire and other climate change threats. Thanks to Oregon state Reps. Andrea Salinas, Karin Power, and Rob Nosse as well as Sen. Kathleen Taylor, the Oregon Forest Carbon Incentives Act (HB 2659) has been introduced to do just this.
Another bill, the Safe Waters Act (HB 2656), would prohibit clearcutting, chemicals, and new logging roads in our drinking water supplies to ensure clean and stable supplies of water as climate change unfolds. These bills are down payments on the forestry component of a Green New Deal in Oregon. Other bills addressing other Green New Deal priorities — such as a bill to place a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure — are in the works as well.
Time is running out for humanity to reverse our disastrous effects on the Earth's climate system. Now that the cap and trade debate is nearing an end, it is time for Gov. Kate Brown and legislators in Salem to move beyond its limited framework and work hard to embrace and implement an Oregon Green New Deal to fill in all the pieces of a robust climate justice agenda that have been left behind.
John Talberth is president and senior economist at the Center for Sustainable Economy in Portland. Daphne Wysham directs the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network in Portland.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It can cost as little as 3 cents a day.)