Lawmakers in the Oregon State Legislature are meeting this fall to consider adopting a new law called “cap and trade,” which is intended to reduce our state’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the goal is one we can all support, this solution will harm rural areas and fail to help the environment. As a fourth-generation family farmer in Lane County who cares deeply about the environment and my community, I will be actively opposing the effort.
Cap and trade is a scheme that levies a tax on Oregonians based on their greenhouse gas emissions. It does not require you to reduce emissions; it simply taxes you on them. The money raised — up to $700 million annually in a recent version of the bill — will go to fund a wide range of politicians’ pet projects. The tax itself will be set by unelected bureaucrats who can raise it at any time without a vote of the legislature. Cap and trade amounts to a big, complicated government program designed to raise money under the guise of combating climate change.
Rural communities will bear the brunt of the cost if cap and trade becomes law. The biggest windfall from the tax will come from of an increase in gasoline prices. It’s likely that a gallon will increase immediately by $0.16 and then go up from there. For rural residents who have to drive longer distances to get to work or shop and have no transit options, this gas price increase will hit us disproportionately. But the tax will also find you at home through an increase in electricity and natural gas prices. A recent economic analysis estimated that the average Oregon family of four would pay $500 to $1,500 more per year under cap and trade.
We all know it’s difficult to attract employers to many of Oregon’s rural areas, and cap and trade will only make this harder. The proposed system is based on one developed by California years ago — a law no other state has since adopted, and for a good reason. Since California implemented cap and trade, its industrial electricity rates have skyrocketed to 86 percent above the national average while its manufacturing job growth has plummeted to half the national average. If you live in the Bay Area, California’s economy has been great for you over the last decade; if you live in rural California, however, you’ve seen family-wage job opportunities disappear and poverty expand. The growing divide between Portland’s economy and that of the rest of Oregon has been well-documented. Cap and trade will only accelerate and deepen this disparity.
Beyond the economic pressures it will bring to rural communities, the biggest problem with cap and trade is that it simply doesn’t work. Even the agency tasked with overseeing California’s program admits that cap and trade is responsible for only a tiny fraction of the state’s greenhouse gas emission reductions. Yet it’s raised billions for politicians to spend on pet projects. Oregon just recently passed new laws to increase renewable energy use, lower carbon in gasoline, and eliminate coal-generated electricity. These are all designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have barely begun to be implemented. We should give them a chance to work.
Our farm has dramatically reduced our environmental footprint over the years as we’ve sought ways to become more efficient. We embrace collaborative partnerships designed to protect the natural beauty of Oregon. But cap and trade does not advance this shared goal. It is just a big, complicated system designed to raise money. Legislators should reject it.
Stephanie Gibson-Hawks is a Lane County, Ore., dairy farmer.