By Tony DeBone

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Oregon’s rural communities often find themselves in the crosshairs of urban legislators who want to impose their vision of the world on residents they’re not likely to meet and certainly don’t understand. Whether it’s preventing foresters from sustainably managing public lands or threatening ranchers over pasture they’ve effectively managed for generations, there doesn’t seem to be a desire to work together. It’s about getting their way. If the Oregon Legislature gets its way, it will enact yet another environmental policy hatched in the city and paid for by rural communities: a so-called “cap-and-trade” plan.

Cap and trade is a tax on all carbon emissions, whether the energy is generated by your local utility, manufacturing plant, home heater, or the gas in your car. It is, in every way, an energy tax. In fact, it is estimated that enacting this cap-and-trade plan will immediately increase the price of gas in Oregon by 16 cents per gallon. This is on top of the 10-cent per gallon gas tax increase approved by last year’s Legislature. Only, unlike the 10-cent gas tax increase, the cap-and-trade gas price increase will deliver no money to improve rural Oregon’s transportation network.

Who will be disproportionately impacted by this gas price increase? Rural residents who drive farther for work and family errands than their urban counterparts. Most troubling is that the cap-and-trade plan gives unelected bureaucrats at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality the authority to increase the tax on carbon at their discretion, without the approval of our elected representatives.

As a Deschutes County commissioner who consistently seeks to efficiently and effectively use public tax dollars, I am particularly concerned about what cap and trade will do to increase the cost of providing county services. We have much colder winters and warmer summers than the Willamette Valley, meaning the cost of heating and cooling our buildings — from classrooms to county offices — will go up substantially. Of course, the services we provide to residents around the county often requires the use of a fleet of motor vehicles that will be paying higher prices to drive greater distances.

Most importantly, many of the people we serve live on low, fixed incomes. Because of the increase in gasoline, electricity and natural gas, a typical Oregon family is going to pay $50 to $125 per month, depending on where in the state they live. They simply should not have to pay higher prices on energy when they can barely stay afloat right now.

Finally, as a board member of Economic Development for Central Oregon, I know first-hand that in order to bring more family wage jobs to Deschutes County, we need a diversified manufacturing base. Manufacturing jobs are essential to our communities as they provide the kind of wages and benefits that can help a family thrive. Yet, cap and trade will destroy manufacturing jobs. Since California passed a similar law, its manufacturing job growth rate has been half the national average. If you live in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, the California economy is great. Nearly every other county has unemployment rates above the state or national average. This is not a track record that should ease rural Oregon’s fears about cap and trade.

Cap-and-trade supporters claim that passing their bill will reverse climate change and fix Oregon’s wildfire problems. For those of us who’ve watched our intentionally mismanaged national forests lead to dangerously smoky skies in the summer, this claim rings sadly hollow. If the legislators pushing cap and trade cared about preventing wildfires, they would have long ago engaged us in a collaborative effort to allow our valued local foresters to do just that. Instead, they use this failure to push another flawed policy certain to harm our communities even more.

This is no way to bridge Oregon’s urban-rural divide.

— Tony DeBone is a Deschutes County commissioner and La Pine resident.