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Southern Oregon burned: We need climate legislation yesterday

It is past time that we passed federal climate legislation.

On Sept. 8, 2020, I watched in horror as the Almeda fire crept along Interstate 5, sweeping out of Ashland and into Talent, Phoenix and Medford, obliterating the heart of Southern Oregon. Throughout the day I received more and more news of friends and co-workers who had been evacuated, and whose houses were swallowed by flames.

In the span of a day, countless lives had been upended, and the fire continues. The damage it did was unreal, and it will be a long struggle for our community to rebuild.

But that was not the only terror of Sept. 8. As I was packing my bags in preparation for evacuation I learned that my former hometown, Newberg, was also facing a growing threat of fire. My parents and childhood friends were also making preparations to escape incoming blazes.

As the day went on, I heard from others across the state. Friends living near Salem who evacuated to escape the Clackamas and Marion county fires. A former co-worker who watched as fire engulfed her neighbors’ farm in Mill City. My uncle trapped in Lincoln City due to downed trees and blazes along the coast. Everywhere I loved was on fire. The whole state, my beautiful Oregon, was in flames.

The worst part of all of this was that deep in my core I knew that this all was, at least in some part, preventable. Fires happen, but the frequency and intensity which we have seen in recent years is unprecedented. The cause is known and well understood, it has been for years. Man-made emissions have caused a titanic impact on our climate. Because of these changes to the climate, Southern Oregon burned.

We need effective climate legislation and we need it yesterday. Currently, there is absolutely no control over the amount of emissions America is producing. Companies and individuals can currently pollute at no cost, except of course for the cost of entire cities being ravaged by flames.

It is unreasonable and deeply irresponsible that the federal government has not put a climate policy in place. The Clean Air Act does little to nothing with regards to carbon pollution. I understand that many have argued that the cost of climate legislation is too great, but the cost of not having it is even greater, and everyone who loved Talent knows that.

A federal price on carbon, such as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, is an essential first step to tackling climate change. This bill includes a revenue-neutral price on carbon that not only provides industry with incentive to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels, but the funds collected from the fee on carbon are given back to American citizens to offset the increased costs of fossil fuels as we transition to clean energy.

This dividend would likely be a net gain for low-income families, such as those who were displaced by the fires in our valley. The bill includes a border adjustment, which removes the fee from American goods going to countries without a carbon price and adds the fee to imports from countries without a carbon price. We need Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden to pass effective federal climate legislation and spare our future from more tragedy like that of yesterday.

The time to pass climate legislation was yesterday. Please act with all haste to prevent future calamities like the one Oregon experienced on Sept. 8, 2020.

Dylan Hinson of Ashland is a volunteer with Southern Oregon Citizens’ Climate Lobby.