Climate change and US energy policy concerns were raised by a number of citizens addressing Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) at a town hall March 15, in The Dalles.
Bruce Schwartz, a long-time resident of The Dalles, said he was disturbed by the lack of bipartisan support from Walden in regards to climate change.
Schwartz noted that in the 1970s, there was bipartisan support for important environmental legislation, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, the clean water bill and the endangered species act.
“That support is gone,” he said. “There is no bipartisan support for any of those things today, and that is very troubling,” he said. “I saw you at a news conference a couple days ago, saying, ‘Republicans have better ideas’ in regards to climate change.
“I spent an afternoon looking for those better ideas. One Republican idea was a carbon tax, putting a price on carbon. But you voted against a carbon tax. How can you defend that position?”
“I’m about innovation, conservation, better efficiency,” Walden responded.
“There are others who want to take—I’ll call it the punishment version— with high taxation and high regulation, which I believe will lead to American stagnation.
“A carbon tax is punitive,” Walden said.
“We should lead the world in this effort, but not at the expense of our own economy.”
Walden noted that emission reductions have been largely due to fuel switching, as power plants move from coal to natural gas.
Last year, 15 gigawatts of coal power went off line, he said. “Natural gas will replace coal.”
Schwartz was just one of several people to question Walden’s stand on climate change and global warming, with several suggesting it was the biggest issue facing the world today.
Several questions were asked regarding an opinion piece the congressman had written, published in The Dalles Chronicle as well as other newspapers, in which he wrote, “Let me be clear, climate change is real.”
“I decided on this matter that I was going to say what I was for and what I was against, and I did that with the op-ed piece and am doing that with my actions,” said Walden.
He said that yes, humans were playing a role in climate change and emissions needed to be reduced.
“The irony is that the work we did in the last Congress, and before, has actually helped lead to a reduction in emissions. And we have tried to get a better power grid that can be integrated with alternative power sources,” he added.
Asked about the “green new deal,” and his objections to that legislation, he said Congress should have hearings on the proposal. “What is the green new deal? It is only aspirational, yes. But what is it we are embarking upon on here? The green new deal is much more than climate. The federal takeover of healthcare for example,” he said.
“I think we have an opportunity to do a lot, and we have done a lot. Our emission levels are at 1992 levels, in large measure because we shifted from coal to natural gas for energy production, with fracking.
“Now you can say, ‘keep it in the ground, no petro chemicals,’ and all that, and I understand that people have that as an aspirational goal. But that may not be achievable or reasonable.”
Walden said the US has an opportunity to affect the world by exporting liquid natural gas to other countries, like China and India, who might otherwise put new coal-fired power plants on line.
That could happen if the proposed Jordan Cove LNG liquid natural gas pipeline for transporting natural gas sourced in the U.S. and Canada through southern Oregon to a terminal in Coos Bay is constructed, Walden said.
“That would create a lot of jobs, and put American energy into the world market,” Walden said.
“We led the world on energy development. We should lead the world in new technologies for the next level of energy development,” he added.
“But in the meantime, LNG holds the promise of reducing emissions from other energy sources like coal,” he said.
Walden also said advanced nuclear technology would have to be a part of any future clean energy mix, and that under his leadership the energy committee created legislation to make it easier to permit and site new, modular nuclear technology. “There are no emissions,” he said.
“We can transition from the most polluting energy sources to the least polluting energy sources, while we work on new technology,” he said.
Battery storage should reach “grid levels,” Walden said, noting there was a project in Spokane working on that.
In Umatilla and Morrow counties, a solar project called Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility is being developed by Portland General Electric, he said, with hopes to replace the Coyote Springs coal plant with a combination of solar, wind and battery storage technologies, Walden said.
A lot of small-scale hydro, with zero emissions, can be done with existing facilities, Walden said, and he helped pass legislation to facilitate those projects. He also supported an increased tax credit for carbon sequestration and storage, from $10 a ton to $35, if it is put back into the oil fields, and $50 if it is not.
“When we talk about climate change in the energy sector, there is a lot we have done to reduce emissions and I want us to lead the world in that.
“Somebody is going to find a solution to this problem,” Walden said. “There’s a lot more to do.”
He added that his work on new wildfire policy would reduce emissions, and he will continue to seek ways to both reduce emissions and help the economy.
“I’ve been a long advocate that after a fire we would be better served if we removed burned dead trees where appropriate, while they still had value, and replanted for the next forest,” Walden said. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but a lot of the carbon emitted by a wildfire is actually emitted after a fire by the decaying trees.”
Although such legislation was passed in the House, it has failed in the Senate, he said.
“If we could remove those trees, burn that ground like we do on private, county, tribal and state lands, and start a new forest, we would be better at sequestering carbon and we would have more product for our mills. We would just be better off all around.”
The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service have both said that active forest management can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by 70 percent, and carbon emissions by 80 percent, according to Walden. In 2015, Oregon wildfires emitted the equivalent of three million cars and 3.5 coal-fired power plants’ worth of carbon, according to the Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, he said.
“Good forest management is a key component to reducing emissions,” he said.
“If we can do more to reduce the size, scope and intensity of wildfires, it will do good things for the atmosphere, and public health, and we would save lives.”
When encouraged to work in a bipartisan manner, Walden said that the majority party controls whether legislation was bipartisan or not.
He said when the Republicans were in the majority, “any day of the week I could have moved a bill through my committee with Republicans all the way, and won. But that doesn’t make good law. We moved 148 bills through the energy and commerce committee, and by the time they crossed the house floor 93 percent of them had bipartisan support,” Walden explained.
Fifty-seven of them became law, he added. “Where I’ve seen legislation make mistakes is when one side thinks it has all the answers and rams something through. We benefit as a society when we work together.”