OPINION: Strong climate action critical to Oregon business leadership
Savvy Oregon businesses plan for their operating and regulatory environment, and want clarity wherever possible. They see that climate change is a huge piece of that context.
Along with visible impacts here in Oregon, the global financial sector's announcements make the business context clear — with $130 trillion (40% of the world's capital) aligned in addressing climate change. The recent COP26 global summit, referred to as "the business COP" by many, demonstrated both the mounting urgency of the challenge, and the difficulty of moving resistant players toward real action.
With slow global and national progress, it's clear that every jurisdiction — including Oregon — must do its share to address climate change, and must do so on the urgent timeline required by the latest science.
Yes, that's a challenge. But forward-looking businesses see both a responsibility and an opportunity. With strong climate action, Oregon has the chance to help lead the way to a clean economy, sparking innovations in products, services, and business practices in industries across the state — bringing leadership and competitive advantages to expanded markets everywhere. That creates good jobs in our communities, along with energy cost savings, health benefits and cleaner air and water.
Later this month, the climate protection program proposed by Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality could become a key piece of that Oregon leadership. It depends on our Environmental Quality Commission urging and approving a strong program.
Hundreds of Oregon businesses, like the members of Oregon Business for Climate, with tens of thousands of employees, see the imperative — and the opportunity — of aggressive climate action.
Many businesses face legitimate challenges and as they plan, invest, and adapt for success in a clean energy economy. Unfortunately, other interests in the state are sticking with an old playbook — attempting to scare customers about change. Like so many exaggerations and scare tactics before — from resistance to life-saving seat belts decades ago, to sky-high cost projections for our clean fuels program which never came true — it's no surprise that some entrenched interests are resorting to bogus assertions to cling to the status quo.
Clean energy and energy efficiency save money, for families and businesses. Those dollars circulate right here in Oregon, and their costs aren't affected by market actors half a world away. Oregonians facing worsening fires, smoke, heat and drought know that the real cost to be concerned about is the cost of inaction. Those costs are multiplied when considering health and other effects, especially in our most vulnerable communities.
Our Environmental Quality Commission knows all this. As demonstrated in a recent hearing, they know what it takes to make a strong climate protection program that will help Oregon actually meet the climate challenge and spur opportunity in the process. First, the program needs a rapidly declining cap on emissions that meets what science requires and gives innovators and planners clear long-range targets for their solutions.
Second, the program needs a clear driver for emissions reductions — not just a best efforts approach — in our largest industrial emissions sources. That means innovation, and there's no reason those innovations shouldn't happen right here in Oregon.
Third, a strong program needs to ensure two major outcomes from its Community Climate Investments. These investments will fund projects and job creation in Oregon communities — like improving homes to waste less energy, and building up infrastructure and equipment for zero-emissions trucks, buses, and delivery vans. To succeed, they need to actually deliver both emissions reductions (averaged across the program) as well as benefits for our most impacted communities. And those investment structures need to align with healthy, scaling business models in the implementing organizations — rather than hobbling actors with restrictive, reimbursement-only structures modeled on old-school philanthropy and federal-style red tape.
After 18 months of development and broad stakeholder input, it's time for Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission to demand and approve a strong climate protection program. Change is coming, and there will be costs. The question is whether we'll let change happen to us, or face the challenge with a plan, and play an active role in managing through it.
It's imperative for our communities, and a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our economy.
Tim Miller is director of Oregon Business for Climate, a league of Oregon businesses advocating for ambitious, equitable, effective climate policies and programs.
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