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Clean Energy Jobs: a no-regrets solution

No-regrets and win-win solutions rarely come our way, but in the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, Oregon has a chance to hit that sweet spot. The next Southern Oregon Climate Action Now meeting, at 6 p.m Tuesday, Oct. 31 at the Medford Public Library, is devoted to the bill and the campaign. Anyone interested in learning more, or promoting its passage, is invited to attend.

Most Southern Oregonians know our temperature has been climbing for many decades, bringing us early snowmelt and heat waves. Less obvious is the transition from high-elevation snowfall to lower-elevation rainfall, inducing reduced snowpack and water shortages during summer and fall. Additionally, rainfall is occurring more often as heavy downpours than as light, soil-replenishing drizzle. Together with reducing soil moisture, these patterns stimulate wildfire risk. Furthermore, these trends will only become more severe unless we address their root cause: global warming induced by climate pollution.

Oregon cannot solve the global emissions problem alone, since our emissions are a small proportion of national and global totals. However, we can do our share by becoming part of the solution rather than continuing as part of the problem. Unless we do our share, we cannot urge others around the nation and the globe to help protect our beautiful corner of paradise by doing their share.

In 2007, our Legislature established statewide goals for climate pollution reduction, targeting a 70 percent reduction from the state’s 1990 emissions by 2050, a goal to be achieved purely by voluntary measures. Unfortunately, we’re not on a trajectory to achieve our target. Oregon’s transportation, industries and utility sectors have not risen to the challenge of reducing their emissions sufficiently. Voluntary measures have failed.

For several years, a statewide coalition has urged the Legislature to address the issue. While Oregon’s Legislature has approved studies and has addressed components of the problem, legislation addressing the major sectors of the economy responsible for the climate pollution has been inadequate.

A statewide coalition of climate-concerned Oregonians, including legislators, representatives of the social/environmental justice community and labor, developed a bill that would meet the concerns of these communities while also producing meaningful pollution reductions. The result of several years of effort, the Clean Energy Jobs Bill is a no-regrets proposal that addresses an urgent problem. It contains critical elements that address social justice and labor concerns while providing funds to assist rural Oregon in economic development.

The essence of the proposal involves capping statewide climate pollution emissions, including emissions outside the state resulting from electricity generation, by at least 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Rather than targeting individual polluters, the bill targets entities that emit over 25,000 metric tons annually. These major polluters are required to buy allowances that will limit their permitted pollution. Entities polluting in excess of their allowances suffer a penalty while entities not using all allowances can trade them on the open market. This encourages polluters to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources that are excluded from the allowance requirement.

The state emissions cap is lowered annually to meet statewide targets with the expectation that the price will rise, thereby encouraging polluters to re-evaluate their energy sources. The proposal is a climate pollution cap and permitting process, not a tax.

Since low-income Oregonians would be most compromised by rising utility prices, the program provides some free allowances to utilities. These allowances are returned to the pool for sale. Funds thus generated are assigned to the utility to be used to subsidize the bills of low-income customer. These utilities must still buy allowances to cover their pollution.

Polluters can meet a small proportion of their emissions reduction goals by buying offsets, though these are limited to 8 percent of emissions. Offsets comprise investments in activities that are certified either to reduce emissions (solar or wind farms, for example) or reduce atmospheric concentration of the pollutants (such as forests or regenerative agriculture).

Although it is estimated that the program will raise about $700 million annually, some of these funds are restricted by an Oregon constitutional requirement that revenue generated from vehicle propulsion fuel must go to roads. Both these and remaining funds are assigned to projects that stimulate renewable energy projects while assisting impacted and economically depressed (especially rural) communities. Workers dislocated by the transition are also targeted for support.

States enacting climate pollution caps have exhibited economic growth that equals or outpaces the economies of neighboring states. This bill will help rural Oregon and our state’s economy. Southern Oregon’s representatives should support this win-win legislation.

— Alan Journet Jacksonville is co-facilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now. Email him at alan@socan.info.