State lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction drew a standing-room-only crowd Saturday in Bend to gather input on House Bill 2020, the proposed cap and invest program to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The crowd filled a classroom on the snowy Central Oregon Community College campus for the three-hour public hearing.

Supporters of the bill praised the way it would address climate change. Some wanted to see the bill go even further to cap greenhouse emissions. Those who oppose the bill, including many in the natural gas industry, said its proposed increases for gas prices could put people out of business.

The cap and invest program would require fuel providers, who annually emit more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases, to buy emission allowances to offset each ton. The emission allowances could come from the state or a secondary market.

The number of allowances would decline and get more expensive in future years, which would force fuel providers to reduce their emissions or pay the cost.

The Governor’s Carbon Policy Office put together a 10-year projection of total proceeds from the purchased emission allowances and found they would raise $550 million in 2021 and continue to raise about that much each year through 2030.

The price for an allowance would rise from $16.77 per ton in 2021 to $26 per ton in 2030, according to the 10-year projection. Part of the revenue would be used to fund state highway projects.

Officials with the Northwest Gas Association, which represents major natural gas utilities in Oregon, say the program would increase gas prices by about 40 percent in 2035 for families and businesses. The program would give electrical companies an unfair advantage by giving them free emission allowances for the first 10 years of the program, the association said.

Alyn Spector, conservation policy manager for Cascade Natural Gas, spoke at the public hearing Saturday and pointed out the burden the program would have on natural gas companies but not electrical companies.

“We need a bill that considers today’s fuel mix and offers a fair approach to measured reduction while clearly allowing reusable and natural gas,” Spector said.

All three Deschutes County commissioners — Phil Henderson, Patti Adair and Tony DeBone — spoke in opposition to the proposed bill. Their main concern was the increased power cost for county operations and residents.

DeBone called the bill a tax on carbon emissions and one that would charge rural residents in Deschutes County more than residents in the urban parts of the state. County employees and residents need to drive further and have to use more natural gas to heat and cool their buildings than the westside of the state, he said.

“This is no way to bridge Oregon’s urban and rural divide,” DeBone said.

A large contingent of farmers from Eastern Oregon made the trip to Bend Saturday to speak against the proposed legislation, saying it would drive up the costs of fuel to operate equipment and make farm budgets even tighter.

Bruce Corn, a farmer from Ontario, Oregon, spoke at the hearing with his son, Dan Corn, a fourth-generation farmer on the family’s farm. “I’m very concerned this proposed legislation on carbon would put all Eastern Oregon farms and ranches at an economic disadvantage to the rest of the country and the world, with little protection to the environment,” Bruce Corn said.

Dale Largent, musician and music teacher in Bend, spoke in support of the proposed bill and said it’s a way for Oregon to do its part in curbing the harmful effects of climate change.

Largent, who comes from a farming family, said he understands the concerns that farmers have about the price of fuel going up. He believes the long-term effects of climate change are much costlier.

“What would the expenses be if that farmer cannot farm at all due to massive extended droughts or perhaps rains that never stop or wildfire that swoops through and eats up the crops,” Largent said.

Brett Yost, a math instructor at Central Oregon Community College, said at the hearing he has been studying climate science since his time as a student at Princeton University, and the models for the future are scary, he said.

Yost said the future costs related to climate change far exceed the costs of the proposed legislation.

“It’s far cheaper to deal with it now,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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