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Oregon Democrats advance sweeping climate policy

Oregon is on the precipice of becoming the second state after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program, a market-based approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions behind global warming.

Posted: Jun 17, 2019 11:03 AM
Updated: Jun 17, 2019 11:06 AM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon is on the precipice of becoming the second state after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program, a market-based approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions behind global warming.

Supporters call it the United States' most progressive climate policy, saying it not only cuts emissions but invests in transitioning the state economy and infrastructure to better prepare for more intense weather events as climate change worsens.

"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, with the lobbying group Renew Oregon. Joshi has spent years working with dozens of organizations around the state to help shape the final legislation.

Cap and trade has been a top priority this year for Oregon's majority Democrats, and Gov. Kate Brown has said she would sign the measure, noting in a statement that "Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally" on climate policy.

Though the program's approval is shaping up to be a sure bet, a decade's worth of baggage from California's cap-and-trade program has fractured support for the policy among environmental groups. Some question whether Oregon can truly meet its lofty emission goals and keep its promise to prioritize investments in low-income communities and Native American tribes' ability to prepare for a changing climate.

The division underscores a larger fight on the left over how to best tackle climate change, which scientists warn poses a global existential threat. Some progressives have balked at any solutions less than those outlined in the Green New Deal, a sweeping climate platform from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez that calls for the decarbonization of nearly every industry.

"Strong climate policy requires steep regulations on business and a total transformation of our current infrastructure," said Shawn Fleek with OPAL Environmental Justice, one of the main organizations on the left against the bill. "Cap and trade does none of that. Just like in California, Oregon's bill has instead turned into a Frankenstein's monster in handouts to industry."

Under a cap-and-trade program, the state puts an overall limit on emissions and auctions off pollution permits or "allowances" for each ton of carbon industries plan to emit. Only the largest polluters are targeted, and the idea is that as the emissions limit becomes stricter over time, it will be in industries' financial interest to switch to green technology. Oregon's program would begin in 2021, and the state wants to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Most of the money raised — estimated to total $550 million in the first year — would be used to fund a sweeping progressive platform that encourages further emission cuts and prioritizes investments in low-income and tribal communities' ability to respond to climate change.

"We're seeing the effects of climate really hammer people who can least afford it," said Rep. Karin Power, a Democrat from Milwaukie and one of two key lawmakers behind the bill.

The proposal also contains a $10 million investment to protect workers adversely affected by climate change policy, as some in transportation or manufacturing sector could face layoffs. The legislation provides unemployment benefits and pathways to clean energy jobs that, under the law, must provide competitive wages and benefits.

It's provisions like these that make the changes some of the country's most progressive, Joshi said.

"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," she said.

Detractors on the left note Oregon's program, like California's, offers concessions to nearly every industry to dampen the potential financial impact. For the program's first few years, the state will cover a majority of pollution allowances for some industries, including natural gas and utilities companies. The fossil fuel industry is essentially the only one on the hook for paying the full price.

The plan gets mixed reviews from industries. While some, including Nike and Uber, have come out in favor of cap and trade, others from the logging and agricultural sector say it will lead to increased fuel prices, mass layoffs and shuttered businesses.

Stimson Lumber, west of Portland, laid off 60 sawmill workers in anticipation of cap and trade and other new taxes pursued by Democrats. CEO Andrew Miller said in a statement that rural and agricultural communities are paying the price for "Oregon's assault on businesses."

And opponents from both parties note cap and trade likely won't radically reduce emissions. While California's emissions have noticeably dropped since the state implemented its program less than a decade ago, only 20% of those reductions can be tied to cap and trade.

Dallas Burtraw, an economist with the think tank Resources for the Future who advises California's cap-and-trade program, said cap and trade is still the most efficient way to reduce emissions. High pricing is a powerful motivator in encouraging businesses to invest in green technology, something Burtraw said will set Oregon apart and possibly provide an economic boost.

California's program has added 2 million jobs and grown its GDP by $700 billion since taking effect in 2012. The nine northeastern states with a more limited cap-and-trade program saw $1.4 billion in net economic benefits and 14,500 new jobs from 2015 to 2017, according to a report from Analysis Group.

"These programs can cut emissions all while providing a more stable business environment that will attract new investors," Burtraw said.

For Sen. Michael Dembrow, the other main lawmaker behind Oregon's bill, the program is less about solving the global climate crisis and more about raising the money needed to prepare for a heating planet's worst effects.

"This is a worldwide problem, and if we hit businesses too hard with regulations, they'll simply move out of Oregon and pollute at the same rates somewhere else," the Portland Democrat said. "That solves nothing."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 397421

Reported Deaths: 5299
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah61160856
Washington42725408
Marion40378520
Clackamas33323391
Lane30531364
Jackson25267363
Deschutes24034198
Umatilla15178184
Linn15004184
Douglas13635295
Josephine10388249
Yamhill9916145
Klamath9144153
Polk8384103
Benton624440
Malheur594093
Coos5854109
Columbia442156
Jefferson427268
Lincoln369155
Crook345558
Union341857
Wasco320747
Clatsop265835
Baker223133
Tillamook220646
Hood River218637
Morrow198925
Curry194639
Harney121933
Grant109216
Lake106418
Wallowa76513
Sherman1953
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1161
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5128725

Reported Deaths: 74953
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles153845127262
San Diego4104514351
Riverside3912955388
San Bernardino3784085998
Orange3370455783
Sacramento1699162462
Kern1590231841
Fresno1581872284
Santa Clara1536961933
Alameda1262241514
San Joaquin1084911837
Ventura1049251194
Contra Costa1046451058
Stanislaus923321436
Tulare869791102
San Francisco57458674
San Mateo56861631
Monterey52973626
Solano48014360
Santa Barbara47846555
Merced45506672
Sonoma43609414
Placer42736473
Imperial39148778
Kings35547369
San Luis Obispo31803360
Madera26511315
Shasta26353465
Butte25690320
Santa Cruz22540224
Yolo21792263
Marin18728249
El Dorado18544168
Sutter14691186
Napa13501107
Yuba1084791
Humboldt10360119
Tehama10329133
Nevada10187105
Mendocino873799
Lassen801259
San Benito793980
Tuolumne782691
Lake7073113
Amador583267
Siskiyou480757
Glenn460336
Calaveras449988
Del Norte380442
Colusa329821
Inyo259446
Plumas19679
Mono19274
Mariposa163818
Trinity102117
Modoc7956
Unassigned3820
Sierra2210
Alpine1080
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