Growing up in the country gave me an appreciation of how important it is to work with the environment, not against it. My parents moved out to Triangle Lake to get out of the valley’s field burning pollution when I was a baby. My dad built a house out of a recycled chicken barn and started an organic farm.
I grew up during the height of the logging boom. I watched the hills around the farm get clear cut and the slash burned. Aerial spraying of pesticides had few restrictions then as now, and a childhood friend died of leukemia at a young age. As the logging jobs dried up after overharvesting and increased mechanization, I watched friends in that industry become impoverished, with no government or industry planning to retrain workers. The farm’s zip code is still one of the poorest in Oregon, with the lowest access to public assistance.
Serving as an environmental lawyer for the Air Force in the Alaska reinforced my recognition of the importance of working with the environment. We collaborated to straighten the Alaska Railroad tracks through base to enable commuter rail service, eliminating hundreds of car trips daily. We completed a coal plant closure, virtually eliminating particulate matter.
Later, I represented the Air Force as we protected our storm water treatment facility in Portland. We treated our runoff far above state standards. This investment was yet another example of good stewardship of the environment being good business practice, as it saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees annually.
We have a tremendous opportunity to take the long view and work with the environment in the next few years. First, we need a cap and invest program that will stop the growth of climate changing greenhouse gasses and start to reduce them. This program will generate carbon offset funds to compensate small foresters for keeping their trees standing, rather than cutting them. We need to reform our forest practices to protect our waters, reduce fire danger, and prevent exposing people to harmful pesticides. Finally, we need to invest in the green technologies of the future by retraining workers displaced from extractive industries and training young people to be the workforce of the future, not the past.