Clean energy would strengthen rural communities

    2017 was a year of compromise and disappointments in the battle for controlling climate change, both nationally and locally. Oregon’s temperature has been steadily climbing for years. We’ve seen early snowmelt, blistering heat waves, heavy downpours and a dangerous uptick in wildfire risk. The erratic weather trends will only worsen and will detrimentally impact our local economies for generations. Unless we address the root cause of global warming: wanton climate pollution.

    In 2007, Oregon established feasible climate pollution reduction goals with the hope that voluntary measures would help reduce our state’s carbon footprint. Unfortunately, these goals are in danger of not being met. Due to the plan’s focus on voluntary measures and implementation, large-scale organizations and polluters have not risen to our challenge. Our state government recognized the need for a more informed answer to this problem and started work on legislation that would evolve over 10 long years.

    During this time of reflection and research in our state’s search for a clean energy solution, our rural communities suffered. Rural growth took a historic hit with the economic downturn in 2008. These communities showed their characteristic resiliency and climbed out of the economic depression with hard work, local financial investments and the help of advocates such as NeighborWorks Umpqua and other rural nonprofits. Hitting pre-2008 economic levels is indicative of a successful economic rise, but we still need to protect our rural economies and ensure an economic crisis of this magnitude does not happen again.

    What if I told you there is a no-risk, cost-saving solution that will reduce climate pollution and fund reinvestment in our local communities? The Clean Energy Jobs bill is that comprehensive solution.

    Not only does this bill cap and price climate pollution from the largest emitters in our state, but it reinvests the proceeds directly into Oregon’s local economies. Proceeds that are estimated to be about $700 million annually! This bill fights to keep our dollars local and prioritizes growing rural and coastal communities. After more than a decade of research and work, the Clean Energy Jobs bill is ready to be passed in 2018. We cannot let this opportunity for local community reinvestment pass.

    These proceeds would allow our rural communities to become more resilient, thanks to energy efficiency investment opportunities. Local businesses and property owners could take advantage of these opportunities by adding onsite solar, pursuing affordable energy efficiency upgrades (including better windows and insulation), or investing in equipment upgrades to help save water and electricity. These communities would see a great demand rise for workers as clean energy investment will bring an influx of new projects, further promoting investment and job opportunities in our local economies.

    To help with the estimated demand for workers, the Clean Energy Jobs bill features a worker retraining fund. This fund is an absolute boon for an economy on the cusp of an innovative, technological leap. It will help community members become trained in new fields, diversifying local economies and employing everyone from engineers and technicians to custodians and salespeople. Oregon could become a national leader and model for how states can promote and prioritize local, rural economic growth. The potential economic growth compounded with the reported historic savings should make passage of this legislation a priority for Oregonians.

    The Energy Trust of Oregon reports that energy efficiency projects have already saved families and businesses $5.6 billion on utility bills, based on a $1.3 billion investment. These are numbers we cannot ignore and represent an enormous opportunity our communities cannot afford to miss. NeighborWorks Umpqua believes that supporting a better climate future and the economic stability and health of rural Oregon communities are not partisan or separate issues.

    Let’s keep the momentum going and our hard-earned dollars local. Support rural Oregonians by passing Clean Energy Jobs in 2018.

    — Merten Bangemann-Johnson is the Chief Executive Officer of NeighborWorks Umpqua, which works with rural communities to provide safe, affordable housing and community-based economic opportunity. The Roseburg-based organization has offices in Coos and Curry counties and staff in Medford.

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