Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight, and thanks to Climate Solutions for the good work they’re doing to advance practical ways of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
As you’ve heard me say before, energy and climate are the central issues of our time. No set of challenges will have a greater impact on our region, our country, and globally in the coming decades. And no issues offer more potential for states committed to clean energy to step up and demonstrate that we can create jobs and economic activity without sacrificing long-term environmental stewardship.
This is why I recently signed the West Coast Climate and Energy Action Plan, which affirms that clean economy collaboration and low-carbon innovation are central to a competitive strategy that has already created a $47 billion regional market. And it’s why Oregon recently partnered with states around the country to ramp up consumer demand for electric vehicles, with the infrastructure to support them.
Yet transitioning from 20th century infrastructure to new business models built on low-carbon energy innovation is not without its challenges. There’s the high cost of maintaining outdated infrastructure, trade wars that lock up market share of next-generation energy products, and leveling the playing field for clean energy. There’s the tired narrative that environmental stewardship is a barrier to economic growth and job creation. And there’s the challenge of, when confronting climate change at the state and local level, ensuring some connection between the programs we implement and the benefits we receive.
Oregon — and the entire west coast — is among the lowest per capita emitters of carbon in the United States. And Oregon has been at the forefront of energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment. We have jump-started the transition to a cleaner economy in a way that has protected consumers and maintained stable, low-cost energy.
We must balance our achievements in clean energy with the understanding that we alone cannot deliver the benefits. We need to find the right balance between progress toward our carbon reduction goals and the price of our energy, especially ensuring protections for low-income consumers. And as the federal government moves forward with implementing the President’s Climate Action Plan, we need to get credit for our collective early action.
I will continue to engage the environmental community, utilities, the business community, low-income advocates, our other state and federal partners to seek solutions that ensure we are able to reap the benefits of our early adoption of carbon mitigation.
This kind of open dialogue will be essential when it comes to coal. The United States has the largest proven coal reserves in the world. Deciding whether and how to develop, transport and use this resource has enormous implications for the world’s transition to cleaner sources of energy, for our nation’s energy security, and for the economy and environment of the Pacific Northwest, which will bear a large percentage of the impacts and effects.
Thanks in part to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and new EPA regulations for coal-fired power plants, coal use is declining in the United States. I strongly support this momentum, but with demand increasing in Asia, the potential remains for increased coal exports.
So now, more than ever, a national energy policy on coal exports is badly needed. Governor Inslee and I have repeatedly called for an open, national process to consider how we use publicly-owned coal resources, and for a transparent and public discussion of our larger energy strategy, the health impacts of coal export and use, and our limited investment dollars.
In the absence of a clear federal policy, it’s too easy to decide by not deciding, and lock ourselves into a coal-dependent future for our ports and for Asia – and that is not a course I am willing to pursue.
So Oregon will continue to press for a national debate so we make a conscious decision about our energy future rather than leaving critical questions up to the whims of investors and speculators who are removed from the practical and moral implications of climate change.
In the meantime there are things we can do at the state level.
I commend Governor Inslee for assuring that Washington’s review of coal export facilities proposed in his state reflect a full examination of the upstream impacts, like rail congestion and the effects of coal dust from rail cars, and downstream impacts like air pollution caused by burning coal for electricity.
Current Oregon law is more limited in terms of what may be considered in reviewing coal export facilities but I want to assure you that we are carefully reviewing the issues under our authority; and that I will do all that I can within the context of Oregon law to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal dependent future in the absence of a larger federal policy that speaks to how coal exports will lead to a lower carbon future and to the environmental and health issues inv0vled.
At the same time I will continue to look for ways to assure that, as a nation, we answer tough questions related to fossil fuels and coal exports with answers that contribute to a healthier and more prosperous, sustainable future for all our citizens.
It may seem that there is little that individual states can do to shape federal policy but I believe that our effort to align climate and energy polices along the west coast – which collectively comprises the fifth largest economy in the world – offers us a powerful path forward toward a brighter and more sustainable future.
As Wallace Stegner wrote in The Sound of Mountain Water:
“One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”
It is now my honor to introduce tonight’s keynote speaker.
Tom Steyer is the founder and co-managing partner of Farallon Capital Management, L.L.C., one of the country’s most successful investment firms.
He and his wife, Kat Taylor, joined Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and other high-wealth Americans in the “Giving Pledge,” a promise to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable and nonprofit activities during their lifetimes.
Tom and Kat are also the founders of OneCaliforniaBank, an Oakland, California community development bank now called One PacificCoast Bank.
Tom recently teamed with George Schultz, former Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, to defeat California’s Proposition 23, which would have rolled back new state environmental laws. Tom graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale and received his MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
Please join me in welcoming Tom tonight.