Oregon Capitol in springtime
Oregon fills leadership gap on parallel COVID, climate crises

Oregon, along with the rest of the world, is battling two global health crises right now: COVID-19 and climate change. The immediate need to keep ourselves and loved ones healthy has felt all-consuming — and justifiably so. We are grateful to all frontline workers and mourn with those who have been personally impacted.

Unfortunately, global warming has not paused to respect social distancing during these ‘corona times.’ Quite the contrary, the climate crisis is exacerbating harm to Oregonians’ health, livelihoods, and natural resources — especially among low-income individuals, communities of color, and rural communities. Oregon’s first wildfires of 2020 sparked last week in Douglas County, and the National Interagency Fire Center has predicted major disruption and destruction from wildfires and smoke this summer.

Five decades ago, environmental organizers established the very first Earth Day as Ohio’s polluted rivers were set ablaze by toxic chemicals. Climate action is the theme of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Much like our state’s response to COVID-19, Oregon is regaining its leadership edge and showing that states can lead on climate action where the federal government has failed.

After years of stymied legislative efforts to curb our rising climate pollution, Governor Kate Brown delivered one of the country's strongest Executive Orders on climate in early March, now called the “Oregon Climate Action Plan.” Citing the scientific, economic, and moral imperatives for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the Governor rightly said, “Climate action is crucial and urgent.”

Oregon Climate Action Plan logo

The Oregon Climate Action Plan (OCAP) charts a healthier, more resilient course for our state, prioritizing assistance for communities hit hardest by climate change, including:

  1. Clean economy: OCAP sets enforceable goals for cutting climate pollution, which will help spur a transition to an affordable clean energy-powered economy, creating more jobs, cleaning the air, and supporting healthier communities across Oregon.
  2. Clean fuels & electric vehicles: OCAP boosts infrastructure for electric cars and trucks for all Oregonians, and builds on our existing Clean Fuels Program to make it the strongest in the country. Cleaner fuels and electric vehicles adopted through this successful program have already created jobs across the state and displaced over 3.6 million tons of climate pollution.
  3. Clean buildings: OCAP maximizes the energy efficiency of newly-constructed buildings, which will save Oregonians money on their utility bills and reduce operating costs for Oregon businesses — all while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
  4. Climate-smart agriculture & forestry: OCAP harnesses the tremendous potential of our state's forests, farms, and waterways to sequester carbon and adapt to climate change, while maintaining and creating good paying jobs that support improved wildlife habitat, clean air, and safe water. We have built bipartisan support for meaningful investments in these working lands and can now accelerate climate-friendly outcomes.

While there’s still more work ahead, it is important to celebrate when our state steps up and leads. So in honor of this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, please stay safe and healthy, and proudly raise a glass from Oregon’s bounty to celebrate our climate leadership – and then be ready to continue pushing to build a healthier, more resilient future.

Meredith Connolly is the Oregon Director for Climate Solutions, a Northwest-based nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating clean energy solutions to the climate crisis.

Dylan Kruse is the Director of Government Affairs at Sustainable Northwest, a Northwest nonprofit developing entrepreneurial solutions to natural resources challenges that keep lands healthy and provide economic and community benefits.

NOTE: This op-ed was submitted to the Portland Tribune on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020.

Author Bio

Meredith Connolly

Oregon Director, Climate Solutions

Meredith brings over a decade of climate policy experience to her work accelerating Oregon’s transition to a clean energy economy. She advocates for innovative and equitable policy solutions to reduce pollution and create clean energy jobs across the state. Currently, Meredith leads a team diligently working to electrify everything from cars, trucks, and buses to homes and buildings, and power it all with 100% clean electricity.

Prior to joining Climate Solutions, Meredith was a Climate and Energy Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. At NRDC, she advanced renewable energy policies in the U.S. and internationally. She also implemented programs to protect public health and improve climate resilience to heat waves and air pollution in India’s growing cities. Before NRDC, Meredith practiced law in the private sector.

Meredith is a member of the Oregon and California State Bar Associations. She holds a JD from Boston College Law School and a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and French from Santa Clara University. In her free time, Meredith enjoys exploring her incredible home state of Oregon with her family and rooting too loudly for the Portland Thorns and Timbers.