Oregon Sets a New Standard: Coal-Free by 2035

Unless you're coal, that is.
Unless you’re coal, that is.

In a bi-partisan vote that brought together utilities, consumers and environmentalists, Oregon’s legislature has passed the most ambitious, anti-coal, pro-renewables legislation in the country.

“Today’s vote is a win-win for our climate and clean energy here in Oregon. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition plan shows that we can come together to advance real climate solutions as we move away from coal and toward more clean energy,” said Andy Maggi, director of the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter, in a press statement last week.

The bill will double the state’s use of renewables by 2050, and mandate that use of coal power is eliminated by 2035. It is expected to be signed by Gov. Kate Brown shortly.

“Commitments like Oregon’s are essential to the global effort to contain and reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels that can protect the Earth for future generations,” Angus Duncan, chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, wrote in a blog post.

The past few months have seen a new wave of powerful actions from cities and states. California passed legislation mandating 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, while its second largest city, San Diego, went a step further, aiming for 100 percent. This comes in light of the historic Paris Climate Accord signed last year, which puts the world closer to a clean-energy future.

Oregon will be firmly on that path. “Combined with Oregon’s existing hydroelectric base, that means the state will be on track for an electricity system that’s 70 to 90 percent carbon-free by that date,” Duncan wrote.

There is no underestimating how big this new is. In 2009, when I working for the Sierra Club, I visited Oregon to meet with local organizers trying to both prevent any increase in coal electricity use throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the construction of a massive export terminal. Had it gone through, it would have let dirty coal from Wyoming, Montana, and other nearby states to be shipped across the Pacific, negatively impacting air quality and health in Asia.

Today, those terminals are shelved, and Oregon is on the path toward what we then thought was an ambitious goal – a coal-free grip. In fact, in the past seven years, we’ve seen an unprecedented collapse in the coal market in the United States. Now, across the Pacific, coal demand is dropping fast in Asia, giving many hope that coal will soon only be found its rightful place: deep underground.

Now, we need other U.S. states to join Oregon. Every little bit helps. We need more ambitious, anti-fossil fuels, pro-renewables plans in order to avoid the worst of climate change. Oregon is pointing the way forward. It’s time for the rest of America, and the world, to follow.

Photo Credit: Oregon DOT via Flickr

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Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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