Invest in Oregon by capping carbon (Opinion)

Posted in Oregon Live April 18, 2017

Maggie Tallmadge and Vien Truong

Oregon's state leaders are debating the very significant environmental policy of whether to cap the climate pollution coming from our biggest polluters. This decision is important for Oregonians and for the country as a whole. Why? Because this policy can clean up the air and generate proceeds to lift up communities facing poverty and pollution. On top of that, this can be a counterbalance to environmental rollbacks by the federal government.

When we have droughts, the prices on fresh vegetables go up. When we live in highly polluted communities, our health declines and we pay more for health care. When we have increased weather catastrophes, the costs of home insurance go up. And these increased costs are hard on everyone, but it is much harder for families who are struggling to make ends meet. If you're a family living on the frontlines of some of the worst pollution, like ours are, the costs are harder to absorb and the risks are much, much higher.

The Jade District in Southeast Portland, for example, has had growing concerns over air quality. Families in that area have higher rates of asthma and cancer. This means healthcare costs will increase, including the cost of medicine. This means that kids with asthma will miss school more, and their parents will miss work to go to doctor visits. That can mean less income for a family as their costs go up.

Oregon can do something to protect families' income and environment. Oregon can adopt a "cap and invest" policy like the ones now being considered by the legislature. The policy holds polluters responsible for cleaning up their act and can create new proceeds - not just a new tax on families. And that money can be used to invest in families by creating more good-paying jobs, getting clean energy to families at lower costs, and improving the quality of life while reducing the costs of living.
Many of the timber towns in rural Oregon and tribal lands could benefit from green project investments that would bring new jobs. The new proceeds from this program could increase projects that are already occurring, such as creating green spaces in the Cully neighborhood.

This isn't an impossible task. It isn't even new. There are already 10 states and dozens of countries and jurisdictions that have put a price on carbon.

And in states where the proceeds are invested in underserved communities, the results are staggering. For instance, money in California helped Maria Zavala get solar on her affordable home, dropping her monthly energy bill from $200 to $1.50 and saving her thousands of dollars a year in energy costs. Maria's son Nic was exposed to new job opportunities through the projects happening in his neighborhood and decided to pursue a career in the growing solar industry. 

A policy that caps the amount of pollution from big industries, and uses money from this program for families, can transform Oregon. By investing in the communities who need it most, we can create a green economy that helps build prosperity for all.

Too often, low-income communities and communities of color have been left out of the climate debate and climate solutions. Oregonians need to be included and consulted in every part of the decision-making process. This is how we make sure that the solutions arrived at are the best solutions for the state.

Margaret Tallmadge is the Environmental Justice Manager at Coalition of Communities of Color in Portland. Vien Truong is the national director of Green For All, a climate and economic justice organization based in Oakland, Calif.

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  • Josh Lynch
    published this page in All News 2017-04-19 07:22:16 -0700

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