Climate change | Environment

Carbon Tax? Cap and Trade? Oregon Lawmakers Weigh Options For Reducing Emissions


Supporters of legislation that would reduce carbon emissions in Oregon gathered for a rally outside the capitol in Salem Wednesday.

Supporters of legislation that would reduce carbon emissions in Oregon gathered for a rally outside the capitol in Salem Wednesday.

Cassandra Profita/EarthFix

What’s the best way for Oregon to reduce its contributions to climate change? Supporters and opponents weighed in Wednesday at a legislative hearing on five bills that aim to reduce Oregon’s carbon emissions.

Dozens of people lined up at a joint committee hearing to testify in support of taking action to cap carbon emissions, warning that without such action wildfires, drought, extreme heat and flooding and other natural disasters would worsen and wreak havoc across the globe.

Last month the Oregon Global Warming Commission told the Legislature the state is way behind on its goals for reducing carbon emissions. Many who testified argued that without further action to regulate carbon emissions the state would have no hope of meeting its goals and doing its part to address climate change.

Two of the bills under consideration, SB 557 and HB 2135, would create a cap and trade system similar to those already in place in California and several Canadian provinces. Those bills would set limits on carbon emissions and create a market for trading carbon credits.

A third option, SB 748, nicknamed a “cap and penalty” bill, would create a carbon pollution permit program that would collect money from fees and penalties. The funds would be used reduce emissions and help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Another bill, HB 2468, sets a cap on emissions and directs the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to develop a system to meet that goal. A bill that has yet to be introduced, LC 1242, would create a carbon tax that would increase annually to create an incentive for reducing emissions.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said his goal for this legislative session is to weigh all of the options and choose the best way forward.

“Something I’m committed to is by the time we finish this session we will have settled on a path,” the Portland Democrat said. “I think it’s really important we decide where we’re headed and commit to moving forward.”

Dembrow said he would prefer a cap and trade system that would allow Oregon to partner with California, Ontario, Quebec and other provinces that are creating similar carbon trading markets.

Some environmental groups voiced support for cap and trade options rather than a carbon tax, saying the latter wouldn’t guarantee that the state would meet its goals for reducing carbon emissions. Others who testified said they would support either option – a carbon tax or cap and trade system.

Mike Freese, vice president for Oregon Associated Industries, expressed opposition to all of the proposed bills on behalf of his organization and the Oregon Business Association, which represent 1,600 businesses that employ 250,000 Oregonians.

“We know businesses have done a great deal to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and climate contributions,” he said. “Those commitments will continue. However, any climate policy must be sound and meet what we believe are common objectives: reducing global greenhouse gas emissions without putting Oregon businesses and our diverse economy at a competitive disadvantage.

Huy Ong, executive director of the environmental justice group OPAL, said his group supports SB 557 in particular because of it would create a low-income assistance program and require diverse representation in developing the program.

“Communities of color, tribal communities, people with low income and rural people are on the front lines of climate change,” he said. “From higher medical bills, costlier groceries and the high price of fossil fuels, we’re already paying the price for climate pollution. The right policy with equity at the center will protect the most vulnerable from changes in energy prices in the short term and build benefits for our communities like clean energy and job training in the long term.”

Several young students testified that their future depends on carbon regulation. Jeremy Clark told lawmakers he has read reports from the International Panel on Climate Change and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“They all point to things like crop failure … floods, hurricanes, sea level rise, resulting in millions of climate refugees, an economy collapse and a world not suitable for life, and that is not a pessimistic view,” he said. “That sounds more like an apocalypse than my future, but it is my future. I don’t think anyone should have to worry about things like that no matter their age, gender, race, socioeconomic class or religion.”

Dembrow said a work group open to all lawmakers will discuss the options over the next couple months and advise the Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee and House Environment and Energy Committee on which bills should move forward.

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