OPINION: Climate protection can't exclude Oregon's largest polluters
To grow up today is to grow up during the apocalypse. In the midst of a global pandemic and climate crisis, my classmates and I are just trying to finish high school. While already trapped in our homes, the record-breaking wildfire season destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and left Oregonians breathing toxic smoke for weeks. We're graduating into a world fraught with unprecedented tragedies.
Two global public health emergencies are harming Oregonians: COVID-19 and climate change. Smoke from wildfires, pollution from burning fossil fuels and a respiratory virus are all gunning for our lungs. Who is bearing more than their fair share of these burdens? The answer has always been the same: Black, Indigenous and people of color.
As a young person, I can't afford to watch the world pass me by. I've spent the past two years pushing for our state to take action on environmental injustice, to make Oregon the leader she's supposed to be and live up to the reputation people say we have. I marched in September 2019 with more than 20,000 Oregonians to demand our leaders stop delaying and stand for my future.
Our elected officials are governing in the most challenging time in my entire lifetime. Failed leadership and shortsightedness both in the last year and over decades, has led us to these overlapping crises. We're all living through these disasters today and we need solutions for a better tomorrow. If our elected officials aren't prepared to act in the interest of everyone, they're in the wrong career field.
My proudest moment as an activist is when the Oregon Climate Action Plan was signed last year by Gov. Kate Brown, surrounded by young people. Following the anti-democratic legislative shutdowns that stopped climate progress for years, our state finally took significant action turning all its power and authority toward transitioning to a clean, equitable economy.
Almost a year later, I'm writing to grab the governor's attention again.
The Oregon Climate Action Plan is only a piece of paper until it starts reducing climate pollution. I'm worried about where one of its signature programs is headed before the rules are even written. My generation is counting on Gov. Brown to put it back on track.
A key program the action plan is the Climate Protection Program. It's supposed to hold large polluters in Oregon —the oil companies, power plants, fossil fuel gas companies and heavy industry — accountable for the climate pollution they pump into our air and water. It will set a limit for how much is allowed and lower that limit over time, based on what science tells us is needed.
The Department of Environmental Quality is about to begin writing the rules for this program and it's not off to a great start. Against what a majority of the public has said it wants, rule-makers are planning on excusing gas-burning power plants entirely from responsibility. Gas-power plants are the largest individual sources of climate pollution in Oregon according to DEQ's own data; they're responsible for an entire 10% of Oregon's pollution.
I can't imagine what DEQ officials are thinking, but I know they haven't given the public a good reason why they'll exclude these polluters. Gov. Brown, it's your time to step in.
Yet another issue is that people writing the rules are setting vague goals for 2050 rather including intermediate targets for reducing pollution. All the scientists are saying the next 10 years will mean the most for whether we have a chance at a stable climate. Gov. Brown, I'm asking you to set 2030 target reductions of pollution from those most responsible for the climate crisis.
There's still plenty of time to save this and take climate action Oregonians can be proud of. Show us this state is up to taking responsibility for its share of the climate crisis. There's still time for the people in charge of preserving the future for my generation, and all future generations, to do what's right.
We'll be watching and listening, Gov. Brown. Show us you care about thousands of young Oregonians who are living through the climate crisis.
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