Oregon’s senators are among seven Western Democrats who say they are including steps to counter climate change in the federal budget resolution and other measures pending before Congress.
Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley spoke Wednesday during a conference call organized by Washington Sen. Patty Murray.
“Climate change is here and now, not some distant worry for another day. None of us here wants our kids to have to live through droughts that get worse every year, or to only know smoke-filled skies in the summer,” she said. “We need to meet this moment with the urgency that it demands. We know what we have got to do.”
Murray conceded there’s a lot of work to be done in the next few weeks by the thin Democratic congressional majorities — no Republican support is likely — to include what President Joe Biden wants in the budget.
“We are working as quickly as possible,” she said. “But we want it done right.”
Wildfire wakeup call
Wyden and Merkley said the wildfires that swept western Oregon after Labor Day 2020 and the Bootleg fire east of Klamath Falls — which consumed an area larger than Los Angeles this past summer, and one of Oregon’s largest fires — demonstrated how things have changed.
Among the measures that Wyden said Senate Democrats will include in the $3.5 trillion budget resolution is funding for a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, which between 1933 and 1942 put thousands of young men to work in the nation’s forests. Silver Falls State Park, east of Salem, is one of its legacies.
“What we ought to be doing is putting thousands of young people to work in the forests,” Wyden said, particularly in helping with prescribed burning to reduce the potential fuels for wildfires.
An area that underwent this treatment is credited with lessening the impact of the 2017 Mill fire, which still consumed 24,000 acres near Sisters.
In addition to more federal aid for prescribed burning, Wyden said the tax-writing Finance Committee — which he leads for a second time — has proposed to scrap 44 current tax breaks for fossil fuels into just three for renewable energy, transportation fuels and energy efficiency.
“It is the linchpin of what we are going to be doing to grow clean energy that can support thousands of good-paying jobs,” he said. “We have a simple message: The more you reduce carbon emissions, the bigger your tax savings.”
Merkley said an urgent task is for the nation to make a quicker transition from fossil fuels and their greenhouse gases, in line with Biden’s pledge to generate 80% of the nation’s power from alternative sources and cut emissions in half by 2030.
“The answer is pretty simple: Electrify everything with renewable energy. Turn fossil-fuel furnaces into heat pumps. Turn fossil transit into electric vehicles. Put renewable energy on the grid to replace fossil energy,” he said.