The Impact of Clean Energy Jobs on Rural Communities

Southern Oregon communities and residents have shown nothing but true grit and resilience in the face of wildfires and the unhealthy smoke that blankets the air during the peak of wildfire seasons, which have gotten longer and more dangerous in recent years.

Ashland City Councilor Tonya Graham shared some of her community’s stories this September during Legislative Days in Salem as dozens of other experts testified to lawmakers about the need for funding to protect the state from the worst impacts of climate change. The Clean Energy Jobs bill would provide much needed resources.

The smoke from wildfires threatens all Oregonians, especially the health of children, seniors, and people with respiratory problems; costs Oregonians millions of dollars every year in firefighting; and impacts Oregon’s economy. This proposed law would lead to investments in reducing fire risks and improving forest health to protect our communities.

“Parents struggled with how to keep their children active in the summer when they were all trapped in the house together. Anybody who’s had small children understands the intensity of that experience,” Graham said to a few chuckles in the hearing room in Salem. “My son’s soccer team, along with the football team, had to be bused out to the coast in order to get a couple of days of practice out on an actual field and out of a gym because the smoke was so bad for so long.”

Oregonians must all take personal responsibility for reducing pollution—it’s why we have our car emissions checked. This proposed law requires big corporations, like oil companies, to show the same level of responsibility for cutting pollution that we do.

“We’ve become aware of the critical need: a culture of personal responsibility among our residents regarding wildfire preparedness,” Graham said. “My neighbor’s home is much safer if my home is not going up in flames. So my responsibility is not only to myself and my family but to my neighborhood and in the larger sense, my entire community.”

The proposed law guarantees communities most impacted by climate change—like rural, coastal, low income, and tribal communities—will receive funding to create jobs and protect against climate impacts. For instance, the program will pay for forest management to prevent wildfire, upgrading irrigation to save water, and changing out farm and manufacturing equipment to less polluting technology.

The Clean Energy Jobs bill benefits the entire state by reducing harmful climate pollution while also creating investments that will help specific communities thrive. The list of harms to rural Oregonians from climate impacts are long: sea level rise and coastal erosion that is eating away property and roads on the coast; rivers that top their banks, including one this year that flooded a family-owned nursery; extreme heat and wildfire smoke that make outdoor workers, including farm workers, vulnerable to respiratory illnesses; droughts in 2018 that left Prairie City without water and required the National Guard to truck in drinking water; ocean acidification that could make oyster hatcheries disappear in the Pacific; and changes in temperature that are changing the timing and location of first foods that Oregon Tribes harvest.

Fortunately, Oregon can create opportunities for rural parts of the state while reducing climate pollution. The Clean Energy Jobs bill would benefit rural Oregonians by paying for programs and work in the following areas:

• Funding efforts to reduce vegetation near communities and structures to reduce wildfire risk.

• Improving forest health, such as funding family forestland owners to protect and improve forests near streams.

• Funding career-technical programs in forestry and agriculture.

• Providing resources and technical assistance for irrigation modernization and other water projects.

• Dedicating resources to Oregon Tribes to reduce climate pollution and build resiliency.

• Helping Oregon’s shellfish and other fisheries counter the effects of ocean acidification.

• Increasing funding for home and business weatherization and energy efficiency improvements.

• Funding to repair or protect critical roads and bridges from fires, floods, and landslides.

• Creating demand and funding for renewable energy projects throughout Oregon.

• Millions of dollars to help farmers make their equipment cleaner and healthier for workers.

The Clean Energy Jobs bill has been crafted with all Oregonians in mind. Rural communities will benefit from Clean Energy Jobs. The climate crisis is not a partisan issue or a rural versus urban issue. It is a human life issue and we are all running out of time to get things right. There is no perfect solution, but inaction is not an option anymore. 2020 must be the year legislators pass comprehensive action on climate.

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