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Jessie Kochaver: 'It's past time we put these climate-focused policies to use.'

Record high temperatures that killed over a hundred people in Oregon. Entire towns lost to wildfires. An ice storm that stripped power for up to four days.

Climate change continues to accelerate faster than scientists predict, and considering this alarming rate, we should be ratcheting down our global warming emissions as fast as possible. Instead, in 2021, U.S. climate-damaging emissions spiked.

Fueled primarily by an uptick in coal-fired power plants and more widespread driving, U.S. emissions rose by more than 6% last year. Though global warming pollution dropped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 shutdown, this most recent increase leaves the United States only about one-third of the way toward President Joe Biden's goal of reaching 50% emissions reductions by 2030. Scientists agree that halving U.S. global warming pollution is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But, without bold climate action, it's unlikely we'll reach that goal.

That doesn't mean we can't get there. Last year, the U.S. House passed a record $555 billion in funding to tackle climate change as part of the Build Back Better Act. After months of stalled negotiations, we may finally have an opportunity to move this bill's climate policies through the Senate. But time is of the essence, so it's imperative that Congress act now on this historic climate package to achieve the emissions reductions we need to maintain a safe climate.

Extending tax credits for clean energy and electric vehicles (EVs) in this package is a must. Not only have these policy tools been primarily responsible for advancing renewable energy growth and EV adoption in the United States for the last decade, but they're also widely popular. Strong and supportive policies, combined with improving technologies and falling prices played a key role in Oregon seeing a 2,736% increase in the amount of electricity it gets from the sun since 2011. Additionally, proposed expansions to the electric vehicle (EV) tax credit will make these clean cars even more affordable for Americans, which is necessary to meet Oregon's ambitious goal of having 90% of new car sales be zero emission vehicles by 2035.

There are countless more climate solutions at our fingertips: Federal funding for local and state greenhouse gas reductions projects will allow local communities to take the lead on climate solutions that make the most sense for them. Increasing rebates for residential energy efficiency projects will curb energy consumption while saving consumers money. And protecting our natural carbon sinks, like forests, will ensure our coastlines remain resilient for years to come.

It's past time we put these climate-focused policies to use. More than 40% of Americans experienced a climate disaster in 2021, and extreme weather events will only become more common as the crisis progresses. It's time for Congress to get this widely popular climate package passed so we can accelerate our transition to clean energy. Our chance at a livable future depends on it.

Jessie Kochaver is a climate associate at Environment Oregon.

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