A Climate Capstone Moment

Oregon legislators plan to introduce cap and invest climate bill next year

McDonald’s, China and California — unlike the U.S. — have climate action plans. If Oregon lawmakers can get the politics right, Oregon will have its own climate policy next legislative session. 

Climate policy in Oregon has been 10 years in the making. It’s been tweaked and negotiated. Although state legislators failed to get a climate bill passed during the short session this year, a carbon cap is planned for the 2019 legislative session. 

After several years, the 2019 legislative session will finally see the introduction of a carbon cap and invest bill, supporters say. Called Clean Energy Jobs, the policy aims to serve as an economic deterrent for businesses with high carbon emissions but also provide some sort of climate action and an investment for sustainable industries.

The intent of the bill is to cap greenhouse gas emissions. Those who exceed the cap will pay a penalty, which will go toward an investment fund to finance sustainable industries, provide rural communities with much-needed assistance and make Oregon more climate change resilient, says state Sen. Michael Dembrow.  

Legislators have worked on the policies for years, and now it’s a matter of getting the politics straightened out, says Brad Reed, communications director for Renew Oregon, a clean-energy advocacy coalition of businesses, workers and organizations. 

In fact, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney has taken a strong stance on ensuring the bill will be introduced next year, Reed adds, telling legislators to not show up to Salem if they don’t want to see a cap and invest bill passed. 

Dembrow, calling from the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco on Sept. 12, tells Eugene Weekly he sees a silver lining in not introducing the legislation in the short session. Waiting until January 2019 and completing the legislation’s language and technical information avoids a delay from by opposition lawmakers drawing attention to technical issues. 

The legislation that lawmakers will introduce in next year’s session is planned to be like the legislation originally intended for this year’s short session, which Dembrow says didn’t happen because some legislators had objection of passing it then. 

Legislators plan to have language for the bill, drawing on previous language, ready by December 2018, Dembrow adds. 

Ian Hill, co-founder of SeQuential Biofuels, says he has some frustration that it’s been 10 years and still no successful legislation on cap and invest climate policies. 

Climate policy, like the cap and invest bill, is a way of engaging with the philosophical divide of whether to be scared of costs and impacts from the policy or accepting there’s a problem and being a part of a solution, he says. 

“It’s a steady stampede of impact, and we’re still arguing over fear of a cost of legislation,” Hill adds. 

Industries like the timber industry, which could be affected by the legislation, have an opportunity to invest in future economies in Oregon, he says. 

Hill says his company has already been impacted by climate change. I-5 is a major corridor that SeQuential’s truck fleet needs to collect cooking oil from Mexico to Canada for biofuel. That highway is susceptible to the effects of climate change, such as forest fires, which can cause closures. 

Dembrow says industries won’t feel the crunch of penalties immediately. Easing into penalties ensures businesses the policy won’t put them out of business or force them to relocate to another state with lax climate policies. 

One of the first things Dembrow says the revenue from a carbon cap and invest policy would do is to provide insulation for low-income homes and rentals in rural Oregon. 

“They will then use less energy — which is good for the atmosphere — and will be paying less,” he says. 

EWEB supports cap and invest because putting a price on carbon is correcting a flaw in the market, says Jason Heuser, policy and government affairs manager. 

The cap and invest policy is essentially the state observing a flaw in the market. Putting a price on carbon is a more effective way to cut down on greenhouse gases than setting goals, Heuser says. 

“Markets are efficient. Markets could be good things,” he adds. 

Just setting greenhouse gas goals doesn’t seem to result in lowering emissions. Oregon passed legislation in 2007 that called for reducing greenhouse gas below 1990 levels. However, Oregon’s Global Warming Commission’s 2017 report projects the state is far from meeting these goals. 

Legislators are working to ensure the bill would pass next session with support from both parties because they want to make sure it has two-party support, Dembrow says. 

If Republicans don’t support the bill, he adds, legislators are OK with having just the Democrats vote in favor. 

If Democrats — who control Salem — rely on their simple majority to pass the cap and invest bill without significant support from Republicans, it could run into problems. Heuser says if the Legislature wants to pass with one party support without concern of a legal challenge, Democrats would need a super majority — which could happen if there is a “Blue Wave” in November.

What could ruin Oregon’s chance to pass climate legislation is if state Rep. Knute Buehler wins the governorship. 

Brad Reed of Renew Oregon says if Buehler wins, given his poor voting record on environmental issues, climate action in Oregon would cease. 

“If we want Oregon to continue to lead on climate change, we need Gov. Brown,” he adds.  

Buehler refused to comment on his stance on the climate policy. Instead, his campaign referenced an opinion article he wrote for The Oregonian in 2017. In the article, he categorizes the cap and invest policy as just another tax. 

Buehler’s voting record shows he does not side with Democratic lawmakers in Salem. In 2015, he voted against the clean fuels bill, which now requires companies to reduce the amount of carbon in fuel. The Oregon League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused gave him a lifetime score of 43 percent.  

Hill of SeQuential says he’s met with Buehler and has heard Buehler say he agrees that climate change is a problem. Yet Buehler disagrees with using cap and invest policies. 

“That’s a healthy statement only if it’s backed up with an alternative solution,” Hill says.  

In the meantime, Dembrow says a cap and invest policy would fill in the absence of climate action from the Trump administration, as well as provide a benefit for those at the forefront of climate change. 

“If we can do it in a way that can actually benefit them and give them pathways in the new economy, that’ll be the model for other states to follow,” he says.

Renew Oregon is holding a mini “lobby day” for Clean Energy Jobs from 8:30 am to 2 pm, Tuesday, Sept. 25, with a training in the morning followed by meeting with legislators. The day kicks off at St. Marks Lutheran Church, 709, Marion Street NE in Salem. For more info, contact Sonny Mehta, sonny@reneworegon.org, 503-548-2541.