SALEM — Two Eugene Democrats are gearing up to make Oregon the second state in the U.S. to cap greenhouse gas emissions on certain industries and put penalties and a credit system in place to reduce pollution, a system known as carbon capping.
Sen. Chris Edwards, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said Tuesday he would work over the next four months with Sen. Lee Beyer to push legislation in the 35-day legislative session in 2016 that would set up what he calls a cap-and-invest system.
The effort would be a monumental lift given the politics around the concept and the short legislative session that is also during an election year. The proposal is also likely to ignite the next debate in Oregon over what steps the state should take to require companies to limit greenhouse gas pollution as a way to combat climate change.
“I don’t think Congress has shown any interest in taking on real, meaningful climate legislation,” Edwards said. “I do feel like it is something that we all have to do.”
Edwards said Wednesday it would take years for the Department of Environmental Quality to write rules for his proposed program, which would take effect around January 2020.
He said lawmakers need to approve the proposal in 2016 because the state would miss 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets it set in 2009 if it waits until 2017, when the Legislature meets during a nonelection year for nearly six months.
Edwards’ proposal would set a baseline for carbon pollution in various industries, and the state would set limits for the amount of carbon businesses could emit before they were assessed a penalty or had to buy credits from the state to offset their pollution.
Money generated by the state through the sale of credits would be invested into managing forests and making them more resilient, more greenhouse gas reducing projects or rate relief for low-income areas if utility prices rise. A similar program in California has raised billions of dollars.
“Stakeholders know what their issues are. They understand how these things could affect their industry,” Edwards said. “I’m focused on working out the sticky details.”
Edwards’ announcement immediately set off fireworks. Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, doubted how the Department of Environmental Quality could handle rolling out another complex carbon reducing program when it’s still working on the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, a fuel-blending requirement Democrats approved in March.
“I would just think that this is a billion-dollar bite at the Oregon apple in two months, three months, and that’s a big bite,” Olsen said, before abruptly leaving the Senate environment committee hearing Tuesday when Edwards announced his plan.
Sen. Doug Whitsett, a Klamath Falls Republican on the interim environment committee, on Wednesday said he would likely oppose the plan.
“It’s a sales tax on fossil fuels is what it is,” Whitsett said.
During a brief scrum with reporters in Salem Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown said she supported “the concepts” in a bill from last session that would have set up a carbon cap but that it was too soon to offer support for Edwards’ bill, which hasn’t yet been written.
“We will continue to do everything we can in Oregon to make sure we have the tools that we need to tackle changing global climate,” Brown said in an answer to a question from The Bulletin.
Edwards was among the Legislature’s strongest supporters of the low-carbon fuel standard law, or Clean Fuels program. The issue has become a battleground over climate change and funding road repairs, as Republicans long said they wouldn’t vote to raise the gas tax if the Clean Fuels program was in place.
Clean Fuels seeks to prevent 7.7 million tons of carbon from being emitted by 2025 through new blending requirements for fuel producers. It remains a flashpoint in Oregon as a group of oil companies is taking steps to drastically water down or repeal the program through a ballot measure next November.
Edwards said he would spend “90 percent” of his next 10 weeks nailing down specifics on what the Legislature would lay out in the bill and what it would leave for the Department of Environmental Quality to finish during rule making. The work will also include figuring out which industries are exempt from the program, and which must comply.
Edwards said he and Beyer would present a bill that includes legislative checks in place.
“I think some folks don’t think it’s possible because it hasn’t been explained well enough yet,” Edwards said, adding he’ll meet with any stakeholder group between now and the session that begins Feb. 1.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,