In Oregon, this could be the year for critical carbon pricing legislation

2019 is shaping up to be the year Oregon lawmakers could pass their highly-anticipated cap and invest legislation. Establishing a statewide carbon pricing mechanism has been a perennial topic among Oregon’s legislators for years now, and political momentum heading into the 2019 legislative session indicates the time for passage may finally be here.

Why now?

If a state has ever been politically positioned to pass carbon pricing legislation, its Oregon. For starters, Oregon’s recently re-elected governor, Kate Brown, has stated time and again that passing strong climate legislation is a top priority, and she’s far from being the state’s only prominent elected official with that mindset.

Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek have also expressed fervent commitment to passing a carbon pricing bill. The pair announced in March they would co-chair a Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction focused on “creating a cap-and-invest program for passage in the 2019 legislative session.”

Additionally, in the November midterm elections, Democrats’ expanded their majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Several newly-elected senators and representatives even campaigned on the promise to support cap and invest legislation.

Last year’s Clean Energy Jobs bill (Senate Bill 1507 and House Bill 4001) would have made Oregon the second state in the country to implement an economy-wide carbon pricing program. While the bills didn’t make it through the legislature during 2018’s short session, grassroot organization effectively laid the groundwork for future action.

“We’re really excited about this year,” said Brad Reed, the communications director for Renew Oregon. “We’ve been working on it for years, and this will be the biggest climate legislation in state history.”

What would an Oregon cap and invest program look like?

Oregon’s 2019 legislative session begins on January 22nd, so the exact language of the upcoming bill has yet to be released. But last session’s Clean Energy Jobs bill is likely a good indicator of what the upcoming cap and invest bill will look like in its early forms.

Clean Energy Jobs would:

  1. Establish a carbon emissions cap that only applies to emitters responsible for 25,000 tons or more of greenhouse gases per year. This includes about 100 entities, a third of which are oil companies. The cap, set to come into effect in 2021, would gradually decrease over time. (Subsequently, so would pollution).
  2. Mandate polluters that exceed the emissions limit to buy carbon credits from the open market for $16 per carbon ton. On the flip side, companies polluting below the cap could sell their credits to companies that are over the cap.
  3. Reinvest the revenue raised by the program into climate-friendly initiatives. These initiatives include lowering the cost of solar panels for low-income communities, helping towns develop more sustainable transit options, improving energy efficiency in homes and businesses, among dozens of others.

Reed said proceeds will go towards the communities most impacted by climate change: rural communities, low-income communities, Oregon’s tribes, and communities of color.  

Cap and trade systems have been implemented effectively in California and Québec. California, for example, has raised more than $6.5 billion for environmental initiatives while simultaneously slashing carbon emissions. If the program is enacted, Oregon would join forces with these jurisdictions and become a part of the Western Climate Initiative.

“The cap guarantees reductions every single year in climate pollution in Oregon,” Reed said. “And the investment part will drive Oregon’s clean energy economy, which is already quite good. We will continue to make changes so that we have more renewable power.”

Oregon’s ultimate goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. In order to achieve this goal, the carbon pollution cap would have to consistently decline over time.

Who are the key players in the debate?

Renew Oregon is the primary coalition pushing for Oregon’s cap and invest program, comprised of businesses, nonprofits, community organizations and individuals. Also advocating for the legislation is Oregon Business for Climate, a statewide business group boasting over 100 members, including Adidas and Nike.  

Reed said industrial lobbyists are the main thing standing in the way of the legislation.

“Our job is keeping the bill at least as strong as last year’s, improving it in some places and defending the weakening of the bill from fossil fuel lobbyists,” Reed said. “They’re attacking every part of the bill and trying to delay its implementation.”

Only time will tell whether Oregon’s cap and invest legislation will advance in the 2019 legislative session, but activists remain hopeful  

“Gov. Brown has been a great champion of this bill for a couple of years now,” Reed said. “All three [Brown, Courtney, and Kotek] have gone on record and said this is the year Oregon is gonna pass this legislation.”

If you want to stay informed on state carbon pricing campaigns across the country, sign up for the State Carbon Pricing Network Newsletter here and stay tuned for future Climate XChange updates.