Oregon cap-and-invest makes a comeback

On February 3rd, Senate Bill 1530 was introduced in the Oregon Senate, which establishes a cap-and-invest system that would make heat trapping gas polluters purchase allowances for each ton of carbon they emit. The bill is in line with Oregon goals to reach 45% emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below by 2050. It would also link Oregon to the Western Climate Initiative, California’s cap-and-invest program, providing a massive win for regional collaboration on the West Coast. 

The legislation is a revised version of House Bill 2020, which was proposed last year but failed to move forward when Republican representatives fled the state during the bill’s vote. However, there are key differences with Senate Bill 1530 that aim to protect rural concerns around price increases. 

Hearing builds support for the bill 

Last Saturday, a hearing in front of the Senate Committee On Environment and Natural Resources drew huge crowds of diverse advocates, where more than 150 people came out to testify. 

Support stemmed from a wide range of groups and individuals — from teachers and students, to climate advocate groups and business leaders, to rural supporters. “Rather than passing the buck, and demanding that the rest of the nation and world take care of us, we have a moral obligation to address our emissions,” said Alan Journet, representing a group of 1,500 rural Oregonians in favor of the bill. 

How can cap-and-invest benefit rural Oregonians? 

The rural display of support for the cap-and-invest program was especially important considering the opposition movement also turned up to the hearing, led primarily by truck drivers and farmers who are afraid the bill could unfairly harm their industries. These groups also hosted a demonstration against the bill at the state Capitol last week. 

However, truck drivers, farmers, and rural Oregonians have a lot to benefit from this bill —  it actually has precautions that protect rural Oregonians from prices increasing too quickly. The price on fuel emissions begins only in metropolitan centers, and slowly moves to less populated areas, which have the option to opt into the program, but don’t have to. This protects rural counties from quickly increasing costs. On top of that, if rural communities do join, they receive 80% of the revenue generated by the regulations, which allows them to invest in fair and just transition methods and infrastructure, so that inevitable gas price increases are not overwhelming for the people who have to drive the most. 

Cap-and-invest would also offer great economic opportunities for rural communities. Oregon is rich with natural resources, and joining carbon markets offers great potential to make a profit off of reductions in carbon emissions and carbon sequestration. 

There are also huge opportunities for clean energy jobs in Oregon — a 2018 study showed that there are over 55,000 jobs in clean energy throughout the state, which has only increased since. There has already been a huge increase in rural jobs in a variety of sectors, from wind and geothermal energy, to forest management and carbon reduction projects. Cap-and-invest will incentivize greater stakeholder involvement in these industries and offer possibilities for massive expansion and job opportunities.

Backing from the trucking industry 

Keith Wilson, a trucking company CEO, agrees that cap-and-invest is a great way to move the trucking industry into the future. “We use technology as an enabler, a differentiator, which really leads to electric trucks and how we can lower the cost of ownership of this equipment […] If there is not a cost to carbon, they’re not going to value it. Every time you give something away for free it’s abused. Right now we allow companies to emit carbon for free and so it’s abused,” Wilson said in an interview.

Support from individuals such as Journet and Wilson will be very influential in broadening the coalition of support for cap-and-invest legislation, and shifting the narrative for trucking and farming industries. 

Building momentum 

The hearing on Senate Bill 1530, with endorsements from rural and industry leaders, built momentum for a demonstration that occured this Tuesday at the Capitol in support of the bill, where over 1,200 people turned out according to Madison Daisy Hathaway, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator for Renew Oregon, the non-profit that helped organize the rally. 

Tuesday’s demonstration featured a wide range of participants, signifying how broad support is for cap-and-invest across the state. “There were people from 27 out of the 36 counties of Oregon, so this is not just people from Portland who came down — at least half the folks there were from rural Oregon,” Hathaway told Climate XChange. 

This demonstration also included lots of important individuals and speakers from the Oregon political scene, who stressed the need for a complete economic mobilization in order to address the climate crisis. 

“We need to engage the climate crisis with the ferocity and all-out investment that we engaged World War II,” Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba said during a speech at the event.

A state of urgency 

Oregonians are already feeling the effects of climate change, and have no time to wait. On February 7th, Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency due to severe flooding in several counties throughout eastern Oregon. This flooding is happening because snow is melting way too quickly this year due to decreasing winter temperatures.

Participants at Tuesday’s demonstration really stressed this urgency. “In Wasco County we had a series of really bad fires a couple years ago. A lot of historic homes were destroyed, a farmer died… There’s always been fires, but climate change is making them worse,” said Dean Myerson, a resident who travelled all the way from The Dalles to attend the rally in Salem. 

The Senate met about the cap-and-invest bill on Tuesday, rejecting many amendments proposed by Republicans. The bill will be voted out of committee by Thursday, February 13th, and will eventually move to the Senate floor.

Could another Republican walkout happen this year?

Possibly. When asked the question, Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger said that “nothing was off the table,” and high partisan strains in the legislature have signaled that another walkout might come once the bill comes to a vote. 

Two Republican Senators walked out of a hearing last week after the chair of the committee, Democratic Senator Shemia Fagan, made a comment about the rally that was happening against the cap-and-invest bill, perhaps foreshadowing what is to come when the bill reaches the Senate floor. 

However, there is still a lot of hope that the cap-and-invest will pass, and legislators will be able to find a compromise that everyone can agree on. There is still ample time to negotiate before the bill hits the Senate floor, and the changes on this year’s bill have already spurred some Republican support. 

Even if the bill is not able to pass, there will be climate initiatives on the ballot this year that require 100% clean electricity in Oregon by 2045, solidified after being approved by the courts earlier this year. 

Climate action in Oregon is on track to happen this year. The hearing on the cap-and-invest bill along with pro-climate demonstrations have built energy and support for climate measures, which will only continue as SB 1530 moves ahead in the Senate. 

Featured Image: Peg Hunter on flickr