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Editorial 1/27-2/3

Getting Off of Coal



Oregonians take pride in the state's natural beauty, but few of us realize more than one-third of our electricity comes from out-of-state coal plants. According to the Oregon Department of Energy, 37 percent of electricity in Oregon comes from coal. As it stands today, Oregon is an importer of coal power and an exporter of clean energy.

The fact that Oregon is relying on out-of-state coal (mostly from Wyoming and Montana) for power in a state with abundant clean energy shows how off-the-radar our own coal dependence is. It's not that we love coal so much that we don't care about the consequences of carbon pollution. Most Oregonians are simply unaware that their own home or business is powered by out-of-state coal burning.

Last year, Oregon lawmakers considered Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729, each of which would have required electric companies to reduce electricity provided from coal to zero on or before Jan. 1, 2025, to customers of electric companies located in this state. This year's proposed HB 4036 would require Pacific Power and PGE to stop serving coal-fired electricity to Oregonians by 2030. In addition, the bill would double the state's renewable energy standard to 50 percent.

One-third of all carbon pollution in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants, and Oregon is part of the problem as we consume massive amounts of electricity generated from coal.

Oregon has enough renewable energy resources in wind and solar to provide electricity to the entire state with enough left over to export to other states, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Economically, $9 billion of investment has come to Oregon for the wind and solar industries, already creating 5,000 long-term, well-paying jobs throughout Oregon. Getting off of coal entirely would boost investment in Oregon and provide more jobs here in the renewable energy sector.

However, even if Oregon completely ends coal energy consumption, that doesn't mean the coal plants close down, carbon pollution ends and we get to keep our snowpack. Coal is big business, mined on federal public land and exported globally. Wyoming continues to lobby Pacific Northwest tribes, who helped block exports to China via the Columbia River in 2014. In 2015, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed legislation to finance the construction of coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. About 40 percent of the nation's coal is mined in Wyoming.

On a federal level, Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden is the senior member of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee. On Jan. 15, the Interior Department announced it will halt new leases of coal production on federal public lands until further studies have been completed. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley is lead sponsor of the Keep It in the Ground Act.

If coal burning continues, in just one generation, Oregon's snowpack, an essential source of drinking water and farm irrigation, will be significantly reduced. The result will be an escalation in wildfires, flooding, air pollution, pests and species extinction. Get off the killer coal now, Oregon; lead the way for the rest of the world.

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