Opinion: Climate Goals Are Key to Economic Recovery

Joan McGuire

In time of COVID-19, we must create a more resilient economy – Gov. Brown’s bold climate plan will help us build back better.

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The twin public health and economic crises wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are unlike anything we have seen in modern history. With new cases rising, they are not going away any time soon, and come as an even bigger crisis bears down upon us: the climate crisis.

As we navigate the tenuous waters of economic recovery, it is critical that Oregon keeps an eye to building back better through investments in programs that create lasting jobs and a stronger, more sustainable economy. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Kate Brown and her Executive Order No. 20-04, Oregon is already moving in the right direction.

As leaders of Oregon business groups, we understand the critical need to rebuild our economy with an eye to future prosperity. Our organizations’ combined membership includes hundreds of diverse Oregon companies and business leaders in every sector of the economy, hailing from every corner of the state and includes S&P 500 companies, mom-and-pop business owners and some of the country’s most cutting-edge entrepreneurs.

For years, the companies and business leaders in our networks have sounded the alarm about the negative economic impacts of climate change. They have seen record wildfire seasons disrupt supply chains and drought wreak havoc on crop yields. They have recognized the dire threat that unmitigated climate change poses to our economy. And in response, they have demanded government action.

Actions like Gov. Brown’s order establish market structures and programs that will help Oregon reach its science-based climate goals and create certainty for businesses to continue making long-term investments in clean technologies and practices that create jobs and spur growth.

It also will help attract new companies and job opportunities, as companies increasingly weigh the availability of renewable energy and other climate considerations when deciding where to do business. The governor’s leadership is now even more critical, as we rebuild our economy and address concurrent crises.
Under the executive order, Oregon will implement sweeping directives with the goal of reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2035 and 80% by 2050, relative to a 1990 baseline. When implemented, these directives will reshape much of Oregon’s economy to prepare us for a low-carbon future, from industry and buildings, to electric vehicles and transportation fuels, to agriculture and forestry and more.

These market shifts will generate enormous demand for new businesses and business models, driving critical economic development.

For example, look at one specific element of the order: Strengthening the state’s successful Clean Fuels Program (CFP). In its first four years, the CFP has helped Oregon entrepreneurs start new companies and hire more workers to produce low-carbon fuels that are helping to drive down diesel fuel prices.

Boosting the CFP will also increase availability of electric vehicles and help ensure that money previously sent to out-of-state oil producers remains in Oregon and is reinvested into local communities and businesses.

The executive order will foster similar game-changing market transformations in other sectors, generating the kind of clean and local growth that is desperately needed in the wake of COVID-19’s economic damage, with more than 500,000 Oregonians filing for unemployment since the pandemic’s start, including nearly 9,500 who work in clean energy.

As we focus on getting Oregonians back to work in a more sustainable and resilient economy, we need to ensure economic opportunities are accessible to all Oregonians, especially low-income communities and people of color.

A low-carbon future also means Oregon is prioritizing the public health of its residents. Clean energy investments reduce air pollution, which will lead to fewer instances of respiratory illness, missed days of work and hospitalizations. These improved health outcomes will increase personal disposable income and help reduce the financial pressure on state-funded healthcare programs.

The economic pain and public health impact of COVID-19 is deep and will not disappear overnight. But fortunately, Gov. Brown’s executive order provides the vision and framework to ensure deployment of the clean technologies and solutions that will help Oregon build its economy back stronger, faster and more equitably. Our business members are excited to help bring that promise to life.

Nancy Hamilton is the executive director of Oregon Business for Climate. Bob Keefe is executive director of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs). Anne Kelly is the vice president of government relations at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit.