Oregon’s climate efforts need robust push from governor, state commission

Stronger language needed by the state to get full value from the state’s Climate Protection Program.

October 13, 2021 6:30 am
Oregon air quality monitoring

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality relies on air quality monitoring stations such as this one in Grants Pass for part of its work. (DEQ photo)

In any given year, some Oregonians thrive while others struggle. Lately though, no one is untouched by society-wide crises, one after the next, breaking on us like waves in a relentless tide.

People all express similar feelings: overwhelmed, tired, and at a loss.

The global pandemic continues to disrupt our lives. The dangerous heating of the globe has erased hope and doubt – hope we would be spared from the climate crisis in the Northwest and doubt about the existential threat from disappearing water, raging wildfires, and fatal heat waves.

These global crises overwhelm us as individuals, making us feel powerless. Yet we have a chance to do our part if we raise our voices together.

Oregon is not taking responsibility for its share of the climate crisis. Despite important strides over the last decade or more, climate pollution continues to rise, primarily from burning fossil fuels and primarily at the hands of the state’s largest corporate polluters.

Often we hear about reducing personal waste to save the planet. Drive less, recycle more. We witnessed the limits of changing personal habits when the pandemic forced us into it, at least for a time.

Our constrained lifestyles barely made a dent in global warming pollution. Our collective individual actions briefly dropped climate pollution by roughly 7%, about the amount scientists say we have to achieve every year to stave off the worst global upheaval. It turns out the “personal carbon footprint” was an invention of the fossil fuel industry to keep us from demanding better behavior from them. Not anymore.

Most of us do our part. It’s time for big corporations, like oil companies, to show the same level of responsibility for cutting pollution. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is close to wrapping up a year-plus long process to create a program to hold these huge fossil fuel polluters accountable for what they put into our air and water. It’s called the Climate Protection Program.

Oregon will require some of the state’s largest polluters to transition off of fossil fuels in the coming decades by adopting clean, energy efficient technologies – a necessary change to protect our health and create economic opportunity to build back better than before. Each year, less pollution will be allowed as clean power like wind and solar come online, more zero-emissions vehicles hit the road, and our homes and buildings are upgraded to perform better by wasting less energy.

These improvements will save Oregonians money on utilities and fuel bills, and protect our health from air pollution, which means fewer trips to the doctor with ailments like asthma, fewer missed days of work and school, fewer expensive medicines to buy, and longer lives.

The Climate Protection Program has a lot of potential to help Oregon hold large polluters accountable. Yet, the draft rules DEQ has put forward are only a half-step toward fulfilling what Oregonians deserve and demand.

For over a year, Oregonians from business and labor, public health and environmental action, Tribes, youth, and people of faith, and communities on the front line of the climate crisis have joined together to demand a bolder program from DEQ.

Hundreds of Oregonians have submitted public comments to demand three significant changes to strengthen the program before it becomes final this year:

No. 1: Follow the science. DEQ must adopt stronger targets that will cut climate pollution in half by 2030, as scientific consensus says we must.

No. 2: Hold industrial polluters accountable. While the program covers many major polluters, many others convinced DEQ to give them loopholes and excuse them from the pollution cap. These major industrial polluters must also be required to reduce emissions.

No. 3: Invest to reduce pollution and benefit frontline communities. DEQ has designed an alternative for large polluters in the program to pay for clean energy projects in Oregon communities, rather than reduce their own pollution. The rules for these investments are too vague. They must include stronger language to guarantee both real pollution reductions and investment in communities hit hardest by climate change and fossil fuel pollution– low-income, rural, and Black, Indigenous, and communities of color.

After a thorough process with a lot of input, these protections must be strengthened and adopted without delay. Oregonians simply cannot afford to lock in another year of pollution as usual. It’s time for Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, both of whom oversee DEQ, to answer the call for a Climate Protection Program that lives up to its name.

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Brad Reed

Brad Reed is the campaign manager for Renew Oregon, a statewide coalition working to move the state to a clean energy economy with good jobs and healthier, more equitable communities.