Last week more than 1,100 trucks and perhaps 2,000 or more protesters swarmed the streets surrounding the Oregon Capitol to urge legislators to scrap a proposed cap-and-trade bill that they say will severely impact the lives and livelihoods of rural Oregonians.
Gov. Kate Brown agreed to meet privately with protest leaders, who among other things asked that the legislation be put to the voters.
We generally have said that the business of legislating should be left to the legislature. But here we find an exception to that rule. Any measure that so radically impacts the economy of the state should be put to a vote.
Last year’s attempt to cap carbon dioxide emissions and force many businesses to purchase “allowances” to cover existing emissions spurred a nine-day walkout by Senate Republicans in late June. They returned two days before the session ended.
Democrats say the proposed measure contains a variety of concessions aimed at easing its impact on rural Oregon. Some climate change activists, meanwhile, believe the bill has been so weakened it may do more harm than good.
Senate Bill 1530 imposes measures to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. To meet those goals, large emitters of greenhouse gases would be forced to buy allowances, the supply of which would be reduced over time.
The idea is to incentivize industry to find replacements for fossil fuels, and to use the proceeds from the sale of allowances to fund weatherization programs, jobs training and green energy projects.
It is true that supporters have tried to soften and delay the measure’s impacts on rural Oregonians. For example, supporters say carbon fees on gas and diesel fuel would be applied on a regional basis — similar to the gradations in the state’s minimum wage law.
Separate legislation would create a tax credit for low- and moderate-income Oregonians who live in areas covered by the gasoline regulations, as well as refunds for off-road operations in agriculture and forestry.
That said, the proposed bill will increase the cost of gasoline, diesel fuel, natural gas and electricity. The millions of dollars spent on allowances will most certainly be passed along to consumers of the goods produced by regulated companies. No one knows to who, or for what specific purpose, the money collected will go.
Democrats who sponsor the bill want to start regulating emissions, collecting fees and redistributing the booty next year—too tight a window, they say, to put the plan to the voters. One has even said that it is too complicated for voters to understand.
What isn’t too complicated to understand is that the voters will pay the tab in the form of higher fuel and heating bills, more expensive goods and lost opportunities. And if fully implemented it will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by less-than a tenth of a percent.
If it were our plan, we wouldn’t want to put it up for a popular vote either.