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The case for pricing greenhouse emissions

If you hike, farm, hunt, ski, or just observe the world around you, the shifts we are experiencing in Southern Oregon’s historical weather patterns are as clear as day. The obvious changes include shrinking snow packs, frequent and sustained drought, more prolonged wildfire seasons, and unpredictable storms.

It’s just not debatable: Southern Oregon is on the front lines of climate change. Now we have a choice: we can bury our heads in the sand, or we can take aggressive action to get ahead of the climate curve. As your representatives in Oregon’s House and Senate, we choose bold action — which is why we support House Bill 2020.

HB 2020 proposes to reduce the devastating pollution that disrupts our climate while growing our economy and creating jobs.

Our manmade and natural infrastructure has already been hit hard by changing conditions. This legislation is our chance to begin investing in sustainable practices and to build community resilience.

In brief, the bill will establish a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions that will allow fewer and fewer emissions in years to come. Greenhouse gas-emitting businesses covered by the program will be able to buy allowances, or “credits” toward the use of emissions. Credits will become more costly over time, spurring a transition to cleaner, more renewable technology. Everyone will know the rules, so businesses can plan for the future.

The statewide emissions cap will incentivize behaviors that will protect jobs and produce further innovation. Companies that are particularly sensitive to price changes and market fluctuations outside Oregon will be encouraged to adopt the best available technology. If they do so, their good practices will be rewarded with direct allowances they don’t need to purchase.

Money from sales of emission credits will fund projects across the state to help Oregon deal with the impacts of climate change. In Southern Oregon, this could include forest restoration, irrigation modernization and new renewable energy projects.

House Bill 2020 will put us on a track to achieve reductions consistent with the international Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius during this century. Studies released since the Paris Agreement suggest we may have even less time than we thought to corral rising temperatures, so HB 2020’s emission goals need to be aggressive and immediate.

The transition to a new green economy will be affordable for all of us. HB 2020 will require utilities to invest in energy efficiency and bill assistance for low-income customers. To cushion the impact of increased fuel costs on median or low-income families, consumers will receive a fuel credit expected to be about $100 per person per year. Funding will be set aside to assist workers who choose to train for jobs in new technologies or industries.

The prospects for economic growth driven by alternative energy investments look good. An economic analysis of HB 2020 suggests that the bill will add 23,000 new jobs to the state economy, driving income growth and job creation in rural parts of the state.

We are not going it alone. Ten other states have already launched successful cap-and-invest programs. After years of experience, all of them have: growing economies, falling emissions, stable energy prices and thousands of jobs created. Over time, we may choose to merge our Oregon emissions market with others now functioning in California and Ontario. Washington is also considering a program inspired by HB 2020. It is conceivable that we will develop a West Coast market that will regulate emissions for a significant portion of the country.

We’ve heard from Southern Oregonians who fear that HB 2020 won’t do enough to curb climate disruption and from others who worry that it will cost too much. We’ve read thousands of emails and receive more every day. Our job is to balance the risk of doing nothing with the risk of change.

When we consider the rapid increase of climate-driven events such as the Paradise fire in California, we are convinced that we must take strong action now. HB 2020 sets a smart course toward investment and innovation that will help our region address and mitigate the most extreme impacts of climate change. This moment in Oregon’s history calls for the exactly the kind of bold, forward-looking legislation found in HB 2020.

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, represents District 5 in the Oregon House of Representatives. Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, represents Oregon Senate District 3.