Jan 26, 2016

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Picture a coal-burning power plant, the acrid black smoke pouring from the smokestack. Just the thought makes it hard to breathe. We can all agree this kind of power is outdated, hazardous and bad for our families and our communities.

In Oregon, we’re served a lot more electricity from burning coal than most people realize -- about one third of our power, and in some parts of the state more than twice that much comes from coal. 

As a nurse working with children, I am acutely aware of a child’s complex needs and environmental impacts on health. Children are rapidly growing, beautifully intricate beings -- vulnerable to the world around them. There is a direct link between our physical health, mental well being and the environment our families live in. We all bear the brunt of climate impacts caused by these power plants pumping climate pollution into our air. From the noxious wildfire smoke we breathed this summer to high heat days, we’re seeing climate impacts now in Oregon.

Thankfully, there is a better way. We can transition Oregon off coal to clean, renewable energy. That’s why nurses like myself and other members of the Oregon Nurses Association support Renew Oregon’s legislative effort to shift away from coal and replace it with renewables – doubling the amount of renewable energy Oregon uses by 2040. When you combine this change with our existing hydropower capacity, Oregon would be on track to get 90% of its electricity from clean, renewable sources. And what a wonderful legacy that would be to leave for our children.

For me, this work is also personal. My three-year-old son has asthma; he started manifesting symptoms at just nine months old.  His symptoms are well managed due to access to high quality healthcare and my nursing background, but I’m well aware many Oregon families do not have these same resources. We need to mitigate environmental triggers and preserve clean air for all children, and with hundreds of thousands of Oregonians suffering from asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions, this work is urgently needed.

Many of the children and families I work with are living at or below the poverty line, and lack an adequate social structure of support. Already living in stressful conditions, they simply cannot handle additional health burdens brought on by climate impacts. Transitioning to clean energy is the right thing to do for our kids, and for the kind of society we want to create. So for my child, for yours, for the children I treat, and for all Oregonians, let’s pledge together to Renew Oregon. In realizing Oregon’s clean energy future, we’ll create a change we can all be proud of.  

Margaret Ngai is a registered nurse in Portland.