Oregon: Coal Free

By: Pedro Sanson; Phillips Exeter Academy

          In early March 2016, the state of Oregon passed a law that will make the use of coal extinct by 2035. Eventually, none of the state utility companies will be allowed to produce any energy made from coal. This northwestern state has the aim of becoming a more environmentally friendly place that fosters a more sustainable life. Currently, energy from coal is responsible for  an estimated 30% of the state’s energy and is a necessary supplier, but the people have spoken. They have shown their interest in changing the current circumstances in an effort to save the planet.

          From an economical standpoint, Pacific Power, one of the largest utility companies in Oregon, said the shift would raise costs by less than 1% a year until 2030 and reduce carbon pollution by 30 million metric tons. Therefore, the raise in prices is not expected to be a major issue, and citizens who are interested in reducing their carbon footprint might be eager to sponsor this important change in the production of energy.
Apart from the abolition of coal mines, the state also plans to expand the use of renewable energy and to only use sustainable sources of energy by 2050. Adding those new renewables to Oregon’s existing hydropower resources, the state’s electric sector will be between 70 and 90 percent carbon-free in less than 25 years.

          “Knowing how important it is to Oregonians to act on climate change, a wide range of stakeholders came to the table around Oregonians’ investments in coal and renewable energy,” said Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown. “Working together, they found a path to best equip our state with the energy resource mix of the future. Now, Oregon will be less reliant on fossil fuels and shift our focus to clean energy. I’m proud to sign a bill that moves Oregon forward, together with the shared values of current and future generations.”

          The governing body of the state should be an example to be followed by other American states and the rest of the world. With the approval of the bill, Oregon will join a select few states that are making significant efforts to use renewable energy production. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is matched only by Hawaii, with a 100 percent requirement by 2045, Vermont with a 75 percent target by 2032, and California and New York with 50 percent goals by 2030.

          Moving in the opposite direction, states like Texas, Indiana, and Illinois are still reliant on the energy produced by coal, continuing to harm the environment. 

          When coal is burned, there is a release of carbon dioxide which contributes to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect, which may be accompanied by rising global temperatures. Additionally, acid rain is is a byproduct of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere via burning of coal. Aside from climate impacts, the use of coal continues to promote the use of strip mining that devastates entire ecosystems because of, among other environmental impacts, the cutting down of trees. The extraction and burning of coal also produces large amounts of liquid waste that can contain heavy metals that are extremely toxic to the ecosystems.  

          If there are less harmful sources of energy (solar, hydroelectric and wind power), why do we continue to use coal and other fossil fuels that everyone knows is hurting the environment? Every governor and world leader should be asking this question.