Oregon carbon-reduction bill: The cost of inaction is too high
In January 2017, the Legislature received its biennial report from the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. The Institute, based at Oregon State University and assembling the state's top climate scientists, was created by the Legislature to report on the best science around the world regarding climate change. What they told us was sobering: the ravages of climate change were occurring even faster than expected, and our state's carbon reduction goals were no longer adequate.
Then a week later we learned from the Oregon Global Warming Commission that we weren't on track to meet even those inadequate goals.
Clearly, it was time for action. We knew we could not stand to ignore the climate crisis any longer.
With President Trump taking office that same month, pledging to turn back the clock on climate action, we also knew that we could not count on the federal government. States were going to have to step up, learn from one another, work together and take action.
Understanding this serious responsibility, legislators have worked non-stop since then. We convened workgroups with participants representing perspectives and feedback from across Oregon. We hosted hundreds of hours of public meetings and hearings, combed through thousands of pages of research, economic-impact studies, reports, public comments and testimony. We looked at what has worked and what has not worked in other states, especially those that have taken steps to limit emissions.
Throughout this long process, we learned the steps Oregon can take to transition to a clean energy future for all of Oregon. We need a hard cap on Oregon's largest polluters, and adaptability to ensure these caps can be met.
That's why we're proposing an approach that gives Oregon's industries and individuals sufficient time to adapt. We're making sure that low-income Oregonians are the first to see investments for money-saving clean energy, job creation and protection from climate impacts. We're ensuring Oregon's largest polluters are shouldering their fair share to address this climate crisis.
We heard concerns from rural and frontier areas that the program would put undue burdens on their families, and we have worked hard to address those concerns in a series of amendments. We have incorporated many of their suggestions, including those we received just last week at the Capitol.
The result is Senate Bill 1530, the Oregon Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Despite all this work and all these changes, some are still calling on us to delay for yet another session. However, we know that delaying is equivalent to inaction, and inaction is not an option.
After a careful analysis, Dr. Dallas Burtraw, one of the country's leading environmental economists and a member of the American Academy of Sciences, concluded that the impact of SB 1530 will be overwhelmingly positive: "When carbon pricing is implemented in 2022, the anticipated emissions reductions will be achieved without any specific impacts that are noticeable to the vast majority of Oregon households and businesses. There should be virtually zero disruptions in employment, but over time one can expect there will be accelerated opportunities for job creation in clean energy, technology, forest and agriculture activities. Oregon's legislative decision is likely to influence policy outcomes in other states and internationally."
The Oregon Greenhouse Gas Initiative balances the needs of all parts of the state and families of every kind. The bill reflects the best science, as well as the checks and balances that we expect and need from our legislative process.
We cannot wait. In our mountains, we have a dwindling snow pack, which melts earlier year after year. We have a water table that is drying up and unable to support the crops Oregon depends on. The wildfire season and extreme heat has threatened homes and lives and has been detrimental to tourism and recreation in our state. Marine life has suffered, Oregon's fishing, oysters and crab seasons have shortened impacting our coastal economy and individuals' livelihood.
The cost of inaction is too high. Not only is passing this policy critical for Oregon's economic vitality, it will move other states and regions to address the climate emergency and make a difference.
It's no wonder our youths are demanding that we, the adults they depend on, stop ignoring the evidence before us, as well as the recommendations of the scientific community, and take far-reaching action. We cannot give in to scare tactics or those who deny the proven cause of climate change.
It is on us, Oregon's policy makers, to come together and give our kids and grandkids hope for a future they can count on.
Michael Dembrow represents SD23 in the Oregon Senate. He chairs the Senate's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
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