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Oregon to Pass Cap-and-Trade Legislation to Address Climate Change

June 18, 2019 by Elin Johnson

Oregon is a step closer to becoming the second state in the nation, after California, to adopt a sweeping cap-and-trade-program.

The bill passed the state House with a 36-24 vote on Monday after six hours of debate, and has been sent on to the state Senate, where the vote is expected to be much tighter.

Democratic Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the measure. In a statement, Brown said “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally” for climate policy.

“We see the effects of climate change in record temperatures, declining snowpack, reduced summer streamflow, water scarcity, increased wildfires, and elevated public health risks,” Brown’s statement continued. “We have a historic opportunity to protect our children’s futures by building long-term competitiveness while creating good jobs and improving access to affordable energy.”

Cap-and-trade is a market-based method of controlling pollution and emissions through economic incentives. A limited number of permits are made available for a set amount of emissions permissible.

The bill is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are part of the cause of global climate change, a high priority among the state’s Democrats.

Republicans in the state capitol hold a different opinion.

House Minority Leader Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, said that the bill was the result of a “legislative body that is badly out of balance.”

Supporters are describing the bill as the most progressive cap-and-trade policy in the United States. They say that beyond cutting climate-change causing emissions, the bill will transition Oregon’s economy and infrastructure to be more resilient and protect against dramatic weather events.

Representative Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, told reporters “I believe that this will inspire other states, cities, counties, and perhaps even the federal government at some point to join with us.”

The Oregon bill would come into effect in 2021, and would target only the largest producers of emissions. The goal is to have emissions 80% below the 1990 levels by 2050.

“We are here today facing the greatest crisis of our lifetime, but I stand before you today in support of this bill because all hope is not lost,” said Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, who was central to crafting the bill. “We have a short window to act.”

Supporters estimate the initiative will garner $550 million in the first year alone. These funds would be used to implement further progressive policies such as more emission cuts and investments in appropriate responses to climate change for tribal and low-income Oregonians.

Economic analysis on this bill and cap-and-trade vary. Oregon Republicans say it will cut jobs and industry, while other analysis suggests the plan will cause an increase in the state’s GDP.

Some activist groups are questioning whether Oregon will be able to keep its claimed priority of making sure low-income and Native groups have the investments they need to prepare for the changing climate.

“We have an opportunity to invest a substantial amount into low-income communities off the backs of the 100 or so major polluters that caused this problem,” said Shilpa Joshi from lobbying group Renew Oregon, “We are showing other states that it’s not an impossible dream to hold big polluters accountable and use the funds to invest in clean energy and in our most vulnerable communities.”

Others opposed to the bill worry about how many concessions to ease the financial burden are offered to industries. For the first few years after implementation, industries’ pollution allowances will be covered by the state, with the exception of fossil fuel companies.

The bill maintains a $10 million investment for those in the transportation and manufacturing sector that could see layoffs. They could receive paths to clean energy jobs or unemployment benefits. It’s this investment that supporters claim makes the bill so progressive.

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