SALEM — In the wake of a string of sweeping environmental policies passed through Salem in recent years, two Eugene Democrats hope to pass legislation in 2017 that would include a price on carbon emissions.
Sen. Chris Edwards, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he and Sen. Lee Beyer plan to again file a bill next year that was sidelined during the 2016 legislative session as another major environmental bill moved forward.
“I am bringing back with Senator Beyer the cap-and-invest bill,” Edwards told The Bulletin in an interview this week, referring to a program in which the state caps the amount of pollution a business can emit, taxes pollution above the cap and invests the revenues to help the state adapt to climate change.
Edwards’ plan means that despite passing big-ticket policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, some Oregon lawmakers see an opportunity to keep passing nation-leading environmental legislation.
“(In) cap-and-invest, you are saying ‘OK, here’s how much you are allowed (to pollute) by sector, here’s how much we’ll allow you to pollute this year,” Edwards said.
Eventually, the program ratchets down the amount polluters are allowed to emit, and companies either must meet an allowed emissions cap, buy so-called allowances to offset metric tons of carbon emissions, or pay a price for the amount they pollute above the cap.
Edwards said details of the bill will take months to flesh out and, if successful, state agencies would take years to develop the program before implementation begins. But he said the money raised through the program could pay for more investment in projects that mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“Putting a price on carbon is a key component” in combatting climate change, said Chris Hagerbaumer, deputy director of the Oregon Environmental Council.
That tax would have a slight impact on the overall state economy, according to a 2013 state-commissioned study by Portland State University.
The study, which looked at the potential effects on carbon emissions and revenue raised by a price on carbon emissions in Oregon, found a $30-per-ton tax would raise nearly $1.5 billion annually, with revenue climbing with a higher price before eventually stabilizing. Greenhouse gas emissions also fall faster with a higher tax, the study found.
“It’s a sales tax on fossil fuels is what it is,” Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said when Edwards proposed the measure last year.
Allowances at California’s May 2016 auction sold for an average of $13.17 each, meaning polluters valued each ton of carbon emissions at $13.17.
Any bill that’s filed later this year ahead of the 2017 session would likely find Republican opposition.
Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, was one of several moderate Republicans who supported the bill this year that doubled the amount of renewable energy the state’s largest electricity providers must use, to 50 percent by 2040. But in casting his vote in favor, Johnson warned legislators.
“This is as far as I think we can possibly go,” Johnson said, saying lawmakers can’t continue passing legislation that requires companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the policy passed last session. “I really think this represents an endpoint.”
Edwards called the notion that lawmakers are piling too many climate-related regulations on businesses “a political statement, not a policy statement.”
“Even once Day One comes and implementation has started, you’re looking at a really gradual lowering of the cap,” Edwards said.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,