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Sen. Ron Wyden takes on climate change by changing federal tax code

Sen. Wyden authored a bill he calls "the most transformative tax bill with respect to the environment in over a hundred years."
Credit: KGW
Watch: Straight Talk on KGW

PORTLAND, Ore — Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden believes he has a critical key to addressing the climate crisis he said is ravaging the country.

"If you look at the Bootleg Fire in rural Oregon, what happened in the South (with Hurricane Ida), and the East Coast, climate change is hitting Oregon and the country like a wrecking ball," he said.

He believes the way to tackle the crisis lies within the federal tax code.
Oregon's senior senator authored legislation that came out of the Senate Finance Committee and is now part of the massive infrastructure bill the Senate will take up again when it reconvenes on Sept. 13.

Wyden's proposal would eliminate dozens of current tax credits and replace them with provisions that would move the country toward achieving its carbon emission reduction goals.

Sen. Wyden was a guest on this week's episode of Straight Talk, where he discussed this legislation and more in a wide-ranging interview.  

This story continues after the video. 

Watch the full episode:

'Throw old energy tax provisions in the dustbin of history'

"You take those energy provisions and basically throw them in the dustbin of history. And then in the future, instead of those 44 provisions that really haven't helped us deal with climate change, we'd have one for clean energy, one for clean transportation, and one for energy efficiency," Wyden said.

Sen. Wyden said that would lead to a substantial reduction in carbon emissions under his plan, because for the first time, tax cuts would be tied to reducing carbon emissions.

"I'm very proud in terms of the Finance Committee," he said. "It's the most transformative tax bill in the Finance Committee with respect to the environment in well over a hundred years."

Texas abortion law

In a wide-ranging interview, Wyden also discussed a new law in Texas which has made abortion functionally illegal in the state. The law bans most abortions after about six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
According to the New York Times, "abortion providers in Texas have said 85 to 90 percent of the procedures they previously performed were after the six-week mark."

Wyden said under the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, those reproductive choices belong with women and it's not a decision the government should be making. He also took aim at the Senate Republican leader.

"Make no mistake about it, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader has been leading the crusade against the reproductive rights of women in this country," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will bring legislation to the House floor to enshrine a women's right to abortion into federal law. Wyden said he would support the same move in the Senate.

"We shouldn't turn the clock back in this country on women's rights to health care. I stand with the principles of women and their physicians working together under Roe v. Wade, and I am going to do everything I can to put that decision into federal law," he said.

The fight against COVID-19

During the Senate's August recess, Sen. Wyden met with health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients in Medford, Lane County, Bend, and in Portland at Oregon Health and Science University. He said they're working around the clock on 12, 14, sometimes 16-hour shifts and they have a strong message for Oregonians.

"To beat this, we gotta get people vaccinated," he said. "They're telling me, Ron, go back there and do everything you can to make sure that happens."

Wyden said he supports President Biden's announcement this week mandating vaccines for an estimated 100 million Americans, including federal workers, health care workers at facilities that received federal Medicare and Medicaid funding, and mandating all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly.

RELATED: 'It's still too soon': Local, state officials unsure what Biden's vaccine mandates mean for Oregon's requirements

Reflecting on the 9/11 attacks

Sen. Wyden also reflected on the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on America, 20 years ago this weekend. He remembered vividly where he was when the planes hit the World Trade Center towers — on Capitol Hill, coming out of a meeting.

"It was horrifying. You knew it would be seared into your brain for the rest of your life," he said. "At first, you're in shock, you can't believe this possibly could happen," he said.

Wyden said he thought of two things. First, getting in touch with his family and making sure they were safe. Then, he thought, he was going to do everything he could to protect the country from something like that every happening again.

"That's always been a guiding principle of my work as Oregon's guy on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence," he said.

RELATED: 20 years later: How teachers talk to their students about 9/11

Are we safer today than 20 years ago?

Sen. Wyden said in a number of ways he believes the U.S. is safer than it was when the attacks happened in 2001. He thinks the nation has taken a number of steps to be more prepared against those kinds of attacks. However, in other ways, he thinks there is still a long way to go when it comes to the nation's security.

"For example, the threats that come from hacks, from cyber security problems, can do just as much damage as what we saw 20 years ago, " he said.

Afghanistan refugees

Sen. Wyden said he feels strongly about the need to help refugees from Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal from the country last month.
His office has been busy trying to help people still trying to get out of the country now under the control of the Taliban.

"Our phone lines have been burning up over the past weeks handling cases. And we are going to stay on the phone and help people from Afghanistan who were there for our soldiers," he said.

His commitment to refugees is deeply rooted in his own family's story.

"My parents, both of whom fled Hitler in the 1930s, not all got out, we lost people tragically to the Nazis. I believe deeply my mom and dad showed what refugees can contribute to the U.S.," he said.

Wyden's father, Peter Wyden, helped fight the Nazis with psychological warfare. He was honored last month in a Senate resolution which honored the bravery of 19,000 troops, including Wyden's father, who served in vital language and intelligence wars in World War II.

"My dad joined up, he was essentially a spy. He was someone who wrote the propaganda pamphlets that we dropped on the Nazis making it clear they had to give up, that the American soldiers were going to prevail," Wyden said.

Wyden's 'lodestar' for helping Afghan Refugees

Wyden said his family's experience is his lodestar for helping Afghan refugees today.

"I guess it's in my DNA because of my family's experience," he said.

He and his staff have had conversations with Oregon lawmakers Rep. Khan Pham, D-East Portland, and State Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Southeast Portland, about their efforts to assist Afghan refugees. The lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon's federal delegation calling on the Biden administration to allow more refugees into the U.S. They've urged Gov. Brown to offer Oregon has a safe haven for Afghan refugees.

"They are absolutely right that Oregon is going to be there for those refugees. That's what our values have always been about," he said.

Sen. Wyden also discussed a bipartisan mental health bill he's working on with Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, about ways to modernize the power grid, and about his bill, the River Democracy Act, to protect nearly 5,000 miles of Oregon rivers.

Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 p.m.
Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.

Watch previous episode of Straight Talk on YouTube:

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