Clean Energy Bill Deserves Bipartisan Support

Medford Mail Tribune: 2/19/2017

By Hannah Sohl and Shirley Weathers

Southern Oregon needs more good paying jobs.

We need to keep more of our energy dollars working for us here at home

We need smart, practical action to slow climate change and transition faster to clean energy and greater energy efficiency.

And we need stronger incentives for major polluters to protect our air and water.

Put these needs together and you get the Clean Energy Jobs Bill that needs the support of Sen. Alan DeBoer, Reps. Pam Marsh and Mike McLane and other Oregon legislators.

While weather patterns may vary in any year, we can see the trends scientists have long predicted. Record heat, reduced water supply, increases in fires, worsening air quality, new insect infestations — all this threatens our quality of life, our health, and our businesses and jobs.

Several local communities in the Rogue Valley are developing clean energy and plans, but we need the added investment resources this legislation would generate.

Under the Clean Energy Jobs Bill (SB 557), a limit or “cap” would be set on climate pollution. The cap would steadily allow less pollution every year.

Major polluters that go above the cap would have to pay, giving them an effective incentive to speed up pollution reduction measures and greater use of cleaner energy sources like solar and wind. Allowances could be made for companies that face direct out-of-state competition, as long as that is done in a way that does not take away their incentive to cut pollution.

The money they pay would be reinvested into regions like ours with the greatest need to help transition to clean energy jobs and prepare for a changing climate. Technical assistance would be provided to county governments, municipalities, nonprofits, and small businesses so that they could apply these funds to implement projects. Administration of the program would be paid for by pollution fees.

Workers and rural communities would be provided expanded access to apprenticeship and training programs, to prepare them for the clean energy workforce. While a transition to clean energy will be cheaper in the long term than paying for aging out-of-state coal plants and new natural gas facilities, in the short term the legislation would help insure low-income Oregonians are protected from any energy rate increases.

Oregon buys most of its coal and oil from out of state. So every time an Oregonian pays for electricity generated by fossil fuels, our money disappears so an out-of-state oil company can profit. Meanwhile, each dollar invested in clean energy creates two to seven times as many jobs as spending that dollar on fossil fuels.

Ten states already make polluters pay, taking advantage of the opportunity to attract clean energy investments, create local jobs and grow their economies. Nine northeastern states, many similar to Oregon in many ways, created at least 16,000 jobs just in the program’s first few years. Their economies have grown faster than in other states, electricity costs have declined and emissions have been cut by more than one-third.

Since neighboring California adopted a similar law, it has attracted a majority of all clean-technology venture capital in the U.S. — nearly three times as much as the year before the law passed.

To benefit our region, it will be crucial that the legislature and Gov. Kate Brown direct the money paid by polluters that are over the cap to new investment in clean energy jobs and energy efficiency. Merely setting a cap will not create those jobs nor give big corporate polluters enough incentive to transition faster to cleaner operations.

Recently, major Wall Street figures such as former Goldman Sachs chairman Henry Paulson have supported limiting pollution as long as funds raised don’t generate money for clean energy investment. This acknowledges the need for climate action, but would protect coal, oil and gas companies from clean energy competition while denying regions like ours the jobs and economic development investment we need.

In any case, action at the federal level appears unlikely under the new administration. More than ever, our best hope for clean energy jobs must come from action by the Legislature.

Hearings on the Clean Energy Jobs Act start this week. Southern Oregon has two new legislators who could take the lead on this issue, DeBoer and Marsh. Marsh has made it clear that clean energy jobs investment is a top priority of hers. Now, DeBoer has a chance to show real leadership by joining her in that effort.

Creating good paying jobs, saving money and reducing climate pollution should be something everyone can agree on.

— Hannah Sohl is the director of Rogue Climate, a Medford-based community organization that brings Southern Oregonians together for practical solutions to climate change. Shirley Weathers is a small business owner who lives in Eagle Point.

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