Oregon Legislature considers paths to a clean energy economy
April 15, 2015

The Oregon legislature is considering several alternative strategies for putting a price on carbon emissions--thus reducing climate pollution and helping protect our atmosphere. In a hearing room packed with climate advocates yesterday afternoon, the Oregon House Energy and Environment Committee heard comments on bills representing three different approaches to carbon management:  cap-and-trade, tax, and cap-and-dividend.

  • HB 3470, The Climate Stability and Justice Act makes Oregon’s carbon reduction goals enforceable and requires the state to “identify and make recommendations on emissions reduction measures, alternative compliance mechanisms, and market-based compliance mechanisms that sources may use to maximize feasible and cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gas emissions…” and to put in place a plan by 2018.
  • HB 3252, A fee, invest, and equity approach that would place a fee of $60/ton on carbon emissions. It directs revenue to a) creating a jobs, economic development and transition assistance fund, b) creating assistance for low- and moderate-income households, and c) directs Highway Transportation-restricted funds to be used for eligible low-carbon projects, such as expanding capacity for high capacity transit.
  • HB 3250, A cap-and-dividend bill that places legal limits on climate pollution, auctions permits, and returns all revenue in equal payments back to taxpayers and their dependents.

Climate Solutions submitted testimony in general support of HB 3470, 3252, and 3250 as economically sound, scientifically based, and equitable approaches to managing carbon pollution in Oregon. On behalf of the Renew Oregon campaign, we also submitted 1700 signed petitions from citizens across the state – from Bend, to Coos Bay, to Cave Junction, to Pendleton – calling on the Legislature to hold polluters accountable for the impacts of fossil fuel pollution on Oregon families, communities, and economies.

To fully transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, Oregon needs a comprehensive policy that accounts for the true costs of carbon pollution. A carbon price can drive additional investment to Oregon’s clean energy transition and enhance existing clean energy initiatives, by telling the truth about the costs of pollution and letting these policies compete on a fair and even playing field.

By accounting for the price of carbon in Oregon’s economy, we can encourage further investment in solar, wind, and biofuels; grow middle class jobs; improve public health; and move away from polluting fossil fuels. A price on carbon will incentivize more of what we do want – conservation and renewables - and discourages what we don’t want – fossil fuels and pollution. It corrects for market failures and rationalizes our energy use. For those who favor market mechanisms, it is one of the most potent, cost-effective, and flexible tools in the carbon control toolbox.

Carbon pricing programs can take the form of carbon fee or tax, as in HB 3252, or a carbon cap, as in HB 3470 and 3250. According to the World Bank, there are more than 60 different national and sub-national carbon-pricing programs around the world. We have successful working models to the north – British Columbia’s carbon tax – and to the south – California’s cap-and-trade program which has recently expanded to include Quebec and Ontario. The world’s emissions trading programs are currently valued at about $30 billion.

Many major companies, including Fortune 500 companies, use an internal carbon price as an incentive and strategic planning tool. Forward looking businesses want to be ahead of the curve, making business decisions that account for the true cost of carbon. By pricing carbon, Oregon can provide its businesses with the certainty they need for long term planning and investment and position those businesses on the leading edge of innovation. It will send a strong price signal to clean energy businesses that Oregon is ready to receive their investment and their jobs. Years of worldwide experience, and recent modeling by Portland State University, demonstrate that we can hold polluters accountable in Oregon and continue to grow our economy and grow jobs. Oregon households and businesses can thrive while the major polluters pay.

Oregon is already paying the price for carbon pollution, whether it is fighting record-breaking forest fires and longer droughts, or watching our shellfish, recreation and tourism industries struggle to survive, while facing more destructive storms all across the state. And the impacts are fundamentally unequal; rural and urban low-income communities and communities of color are more acutely experiencing the effects of pollution and global warming. This is why any policy we enact to price carbon – either a fee or cap – must also invest in the people and communities in Oregon who are most vulnerable.

Climate Solutions supports a science-based, equitable approach to carbon management that delivers broadly shared benefits for all Oregonians. Yesterday’s hearing and tremendous show of public support was an important next step to holding polluters accountable and charting a new course from pollution to prosperity. 

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Author Bio

Kristen Sheeran

former Oregon Director, Climate Solutions

Kristen Sheeran served as Oregon Director of Climate Solutions. Prior to her work with us, she served as the Vice President of Knowledge Systems at Ecotrust, leading a 15 member team including economists, policy specialists, data analysts, software developers, and GIS analysts. She is also the founder and executive director of the Economics for Equity and Environment Network, a network of more than 300 economists from across the country that are organized and committed to applying their expertise to inform climate and clean energy policy and advocacy.

Kristen has a doctorate in economics, and focused her dissertation on equity and efficiency in mitigating climate change. She was a professor of economics for 7 years at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and has written and spoken extensively about climate change and clean energy.