Thoughtful and Controlled Pollution: Oregon Likely Next in Line for Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program

This year, Oregon lawmakers will likely pass an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, introduced as House Bill 2020, which would make Oregon the second state after California to adopt such a sweeping law. Under this program, Oregon would implement a limit on carbon emissions beginning in 2021, which limit would gradually decrease over the course of 30 years. During this period, companies would be able to buy credits on the open market to exceed the limit, and money raised by the program would go into a funding pool for climate-friendly initiatives. The overall goal of the new law is to reduce Oregon's emissions of carbon dioxide from 55 million tons each year to 10 million tons.

The cap and trade bill has been years in the making and builds on an earlier version called the Clean Energy Jobs bill that failed to pass in 2018. A new report by Berkeley Economic Advising and Research has found that the proposed cap-and-trade plan would actually create significant numbers of jobs while only modestly increasing energy prices, and that the more aggressive interim cap on greenhouse gas emissions would create more economic benefits than a more gradual decline in emissions. These findings are not universally accepted, and utility providers such as NW Natural have calculated much higher increases to their customers' utility bills and requested free pollution permits to natural gas utilities as part of the new law. In addition, agricultural groups, including the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, Oregon Farm Bureau, and Food Northwest, oppose Oregon's proposed cap-and-trade programs, arguing that such a program will raise fuel prices without effecting a significant reduction in global carbon emissions.

To address their constituents' concerns, some Republican lawmakers are focusing their energies into constructive solutions; for example, Republican State Senator Cliff Bentz has advocated a call to action for designing the program to also allow for economic opportunities for ranchers and private timber owners such as sequestration credits for "locking carbon into trees and rangeland." However, while there appears to be a deep-seated opposition in the business community and the voting public, not all businesses are opposed. For example, a statewide, nonpartisan, nonprofit business group called Oregon Business for Climate, founded in June 2017, backs the legislation. The mission of this organization is to mobilize "industry support and business leadership to advance climate policy and institute a price on carbon emissions while strengthening Oregon’s economy." Oregon Business for Climate has almost 100 member companies now, including well-known companies such as adidas, Dutch Bros. Coffee, and Nike.

While environmental catastrophe themes (strangely enough) make for great television entertainment, the reality is truly daunting. Oregonians are fortunate to have leaders with varied backgrounds and economic and personal goals who are engaged to create a process for thoughtful and controlled pollution.

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