Some Oregon lawmakers are trying to make the proposed cap and trade legislation less bad even before it is introduced. They don’t want the bill to hurt the poor.

The cap and trade bill is expected to raise utility rates. The Legislature will then take the money raised and spend it on projects to make Oregon more green. But low-income people could be hit harder by the jacked up rates.

Enter House Bill 2242. It would set up a way that low-income people could get a discount on their gas or electric bill. That also means, of course, that other customers would end up paying more.

Utility bills would be transformed into a way to redistribute income. Is that what Oregonians want? If so, shouldn’t similar discounts be enforced for property taxes and all fees charged by the state? There’s nothing in the bill to do that.

Programs already exist to help low-income consumers pay their bills or better insulate their homes. HB 2242 could eventually change the rate at which people are charged.

The state’s Public Utility Commission doesn’t have the authority today to set utility rates based on income differences. Households all essentially pay the same rate. If the bill becomes law, the PUC isn’t granted the authority to change that, yet. It is directed to establish a process to set up a low-income electricity rate or a multifamily rate for a utility. The PUC would then send a report to the Legislature.

The bill does create a low-income/environmental justice advocate office. That person or persons could intervene and testify as an interested party in rate-setting decisions before the PUC. “Environmental justice” is not defined in the bill, which would seem like an important oversight. Or is it anything the advocate decides it is?

If the PUC is going to start redistributing income, there’s one more thing that needs to change at the PUC. The members of the commission need to be elected by Oregonians. They should not be appointed and dismissed at the will of the governor.

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