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No easy answers in climate debate

In a climate-based debate Monday for legislative candidates, Democratic Senate nominee Jeff Golden and Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said the long-debated Clean Energy Jobs bill will be passed next year by Democratic majorities.

The bill would cap emissions from the state’s largest polluters and require them to pay for every ton that surpasses that cap.

But Jessica Gomez, Golden’s Republican opponent, said the bill is too complex for the state to administer, it’s unclear how the state would invest the revenues, it’s susceptible to fraud and “won’t get us there” for cutting carbon in the atmosphere.

In the forum, sponsored by Southern Oregon Climate Action Now at the Medford library, Golden said lawmakers knew three decades ago what fossil fuels were doing to our climate but didn’t have the political will to act. But now, as fires burn and smoke fills skies each summer, they do.

Turning things around will require deep drilling into the latest science, he said, but though “a lot of people say it’s too late, it isn’t. It’s complex and challenging, but the alternative is much worse.”

Even though federal action is lacking, Oregon is poised to join its neighboring West Coast states and British Columbia to take leadership in the change, he said, and determine how the cap-and-invest revenues will be spent, who will be exempted and how regular people “who usually get hammered” will be protected.

When Golden used the term “climate chaos” instead of “climate change,” Gomez cautioned, “Don’t let my opponent’s scary language scare you.” She said it was the lobbying of environmentalists to protect the spotted owl in the ‘80s and ‘90s “that wouldn’t let us get in there, so timber was left alone, that plus fire suppression” led to a buildup of fuel for wildfire.

Since then, Gomez said, the region hasn’t been able to fully rebuild its economy with manufacturing jobs and now, with smoke, the economy is sliding more. She said she shapes “pragmatic policies” and does not follow Republican party line on environmental issues. She said she does not support the Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline.

Candidates tossed around broad-stroke blame and remedies for crippling summer smoke, with Michelle Blum Atkinson, Democrat in District 6 (now held by retiring Sal Esquivel) noting, “Environment is a life and death issue. We have to maintain forests in a sustainable way, controlling underbrush growth with sustainable burning but not clearcutting and planting trees too close together, which is a recipe for disaster.”

Blum Atkinson said she supports an “equitable transition” off fossil fuels by 2050.

Her opponent, Republican nominee Kim Wallan, did not attend, noting she wanted to avoid single-issue forums, said SOCAN co-facilitator and event organizer Alan Journet, in an interview. Marsh’s opponent, House Republican nominee Sandra Abercrombie, also did not attend.

Marsh, who held a Smoke & Fire Summit in September at Southern Oregon University, said the verdict of experts was that “it’s unendurable, but there’s no easy solution. It’s complex. We have to address forest management and community safety and find ways to support businesses, perhaps with economic development money.”

Climate legislation must look at air filtration and summer shelters, she adds, because, “the climate is getting hotter and hotter.”

Golden said fires are the result of both fuels buildup and global warming and must be the top issue for the upcoming Legislature, as “we can’t wait for the perfect plan,” and action must come now, starting with stopping the proposed Jordan Cove pipeline, which “will just dig us in deeper.”

To mount a labor force for reduction of forest “ladder fuels,” Golden suggested attacking college tuition debt with a “give us two years and we’ll give you four” method of tuition help.

Candidates were asked to hold up yes or no paddles to audience questions. The controversial Ballot Measure 104 fell on party lines, with Gomez the only “yes.” It would require a supermajority of three-fifths of the Legislature to pass any bill that increases taxes through changes in tax exemptions, credits, and deductions.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jessica Gomez{ } and Jeff Golden