Merkley bill would phase out fossil fuels, invest in clean energy

A climate change bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Thursday is a very important step in the right direction, according to Douglas County Global Warming Coalition board member Stuart Liebowitz.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, held a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol Thursday on the “100 by ‘50 Act.” The announcement was timed for the week between two large marches in Washington, D.C., the March for Science last Saturday and the People’s Climate March this Saturday. Sister marches are planned around the country this Saturday, including one in Roseburg.

Merkley’s bill aims to get America off all fossil fuel energy and onto 100 percent renewable energy sources like wind and solar power by 2050 in order to reverse the human contribution to global warming. The bill’s likely to get a chilly reception in Congress and at the White House. President Donald Trump has made American-based fossil fuel extraction the cornerstone of his energy policy, and during his campaign called climate change a hoax.

Merkley said at Thursday’s press conference that Oregon is already feeling the effects of climate change. Its forest fires are hotter, its fire seasons are longer, and increased ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions is damaging oysters’ ability to reproduce, he said. This isn’t a blue issue or a red issue, he said, and it’s one that impacts both rural and urban areas.

“If there was an asteroid hurtling toward our planet, wouldn’t we all work together, all Americans work together to save our planet? And isn’t that the type of challenge we face right now?” he asked.

Liebowitz acknowledges it’s unlikely the bill will pass in the current political climate. However, Liebowitz said it’s a good bill and one that would provide significant benefits to rural communities like Douglas County by helping low- and moderate-income people save money on energy costs and creating new jobs.

“The broad scope and the comprehensive approach really is the type of thinking that we need not only to address the climate crisis, but also to ensure that we create jobs in the coming clean energy revolution,” Liebowitz said.

Liebowitz said he agrees that climate change isn’t a red or blue issue.

“The climate makes no distinction between Democrats and Republicans, between Douglas County and Multnomah County. The impacts are across the board,” he said.

While the local community hasn’t embraced the climate change issue in the past, Liebowitz said that is changing.

“I think people are becoming more and more aware of how it affects our community directly,” he said.

The “100 by ‘50 Act” includes three features that Liebowitz said would be particularly helpful locally.

First, it would help nonprofits promote energy efficiency and develop renewable energy programs. This would create green energy jobs and help low- and moderate-income families save money. Liebowitz noted that locally United Community Action Network and NeighborWorks Umpqua are already involved in promoting energy efficiency and solar projects.

Second, the bill would provide loans and grants for “community solar” programs. This would enable groups in neighborhoods or apartment complexes to band together to install solar power arrays the individuals couldn’t afford on their own.

Third, it would offer local community and state governments grants to develop their own plans for moving toward 100 percent renewable energy use. The great thing about that, Liebowitz said, is rural communities aren’t ignored in the bill, and have the power to come up with solutions that work on a local level.

Other components of the bill include:

  • Fossil fuel electricity would be phased out with major investments in clean and renewable energy, storage and grid infrastructure.
  • A national zero emission vehicle standard and major investments in zero emission vehicles and zero emission heating systems would connect cars and heating systems to the clean electrical grid.
  • Grants would make clean energy and public transportation affordable for low-income families and disadvantaged communities. Grants would also provide training for green energy jobs.
  • The people who work in the fossil fuel industry now would get job training for work in “growth industries of the future,” and would receive benefits while between jobs.
  • Approvals would end for major fossil fuel projects like Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. Fossil fuel subsidies would be stopped.
  • A carbon duty would be placed on carbon-intensive imports.
  • Climate bonds would be sold and the funds invested in local planning for renewable energy, and support for communities impacted by climate change.