Stephen Hamway
The Bulletin

Central Oregon’s congressional representatives, Republican and Democrat alike, have been vocal in their support for federal action to address the impacts of climate change.

However, a sharp partisan divide remains over how best to address the issue, as evidenced by responses to the so-called “Green New Deal.”

The much-discussed Green New Deal, a sweeping resolution that calls for an aggressive federal response to human-caused climate change, alongside significant economic and social reforms, was drafted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., on Thursday.

The resolution calls for the United States to meet 100 percent of its power demand through clean and renewable energy sources and eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to the greatest extent possible, among other goals aimed at curbing human-caused climate change.

Additionally, the resolution demands equity for historically marginalized groups that stand to suffer most from a changing climate, and calls for the creation of new, high-wage jobs, among many other proposals.

The initial version of the Green New Deal received vocal support from Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, who were among the congressional delegates to endorse it.

“The Green New Deal resolution sends a powerful message that it’s time for Congress to kick America’s carbon habit,” Wyden said in a prepared statement.

“A failure to act spells dire consequences for the health and safety of our families, our economy, and the future of our planet.”

However, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, has been taking a differenttack. Oregon’s lone congressional Republican was critical of the proposed Green New Deal, calling it “pretty radical” in many respects. Walden criticized some of the proposals, including reducing the need for air travel through the build-out of high-speed rail, as exorbitantly expensive. Additionally, he described some of the social and economic provisions as a “socialist manifesto.”

“It’s more a statement of issues and goals than legislative policy,” Walden said Friday.

Instead, he has used his platform as the ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to push for a different sort of action on climate change. During a hearing on climate change held by the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change last week, Walden laid out a different type of climate action policy vision, one focused on market-based technological solutions, workforce development and more active management of federally managed forests.

“I’m about the art of the possible, and the clock’s ticking as far as trying to find innovative solutions to climate change,” Walden said.

During a speech to the subcommittee, Walden stressed the need for investment in science and energy-related education and training programs. He said a robust training program could go a long way toward addressing challenges like building a cleaner energy grid.

“We need America’s best minds looking at this challenge,” he said.

Walden called for a greater emphasis on developing and encouraging technological advances that could help address climate change, including carbon removal and carbon capture. If the United States clamps down on manufacturing, he said it could push it to other parts of the world with fewer environmental restrictions.

“We’ve got to focus on what industry can do to help,” Walden said.

Improving management of forests in Oregon and elsewhere is a piece of the puzzle as well, and is something that has not appeared in early versions of the Green New Deal.

Walden said the federal government can do more to reduce the buildup of dry, flammable plants in national forests, which provide fuel for large wildfires in Central Oregon and across the West. Providing more funding for forest thinning and fuel reduction projects is a vital tool to mitigating large wildfires as climate change continues to make fire seasons longer, hotter and drier, while also making forests across the region more robust, Walden said.

“Science shows us that green, healthy trees sequester more carbon than old, dead and dying ones,” he said.

Still, not everyone in Walden’s district shares the same sentiments. Eric Lint of the Deschutes County Democratic Party expressed support for the Green New Deal and criticized Walden’s response to it, noting that Central Oregonians stand to benefit from many of the environmental tenets in the resolution.

“This will simply give us more tools and resources to move forward with the climate-smart practices that we’ve already been working on here in Oregon,” Lint wrote in an email.

Nikki Roemmer, Central Oregon regional director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, wrote that Walden “consistently voted against climate action, clean air, clean water, and clean energy.”

“And when it comes to climate change, Rep. Walden’s lack of action and his votes in opposition speak far louder than his words,” Roemmer wrote.

Still, Walden vocally endorsed taking decisive action on climate change, breaking with some in the Republican party in doing so, and called for both parties to find common-sense solutions.

“I think the science is pretty clear and settled,” Walden said. “And whether you’re there (on the science) or not, shouldn’t we work together to leave the planet better than we found it?”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com

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