Stepping on the gas

Legislators to present new plan to curb greenhouse emissions

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Environmental legislation designed to encourage Oregon industries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is heading to the floor of the Capitol in the upcoming session.

The bill, known as the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, is a “cap-and-trade” system to combat emissions. In short, the state would distribute greenhouse gas allowances to Oregon businesses. Businesses that succeed in lowering their emissions can then sell their excess allowances to other companies or back to the state, generating revenue. As the cap on greenhouse gases declines, there will be fewer allowances in the market, which, if it goes according to the plan, encourages companies to further reduce their emissions.

The revenue generated by this new allowance marketplace may be used to further invest in clean energy and job training programs throughout the state. Oregon Representative Julie Fahey, a bill co-sponsor who represents West Eugene and Junction City, stressed the need for these investments.

“We need to start transitioning our economy away from polluting energy and toward the green energy economy,” Rep. Fahey said. “Training workers, investing in clean energy like solar, all of these things will be good for our economy and the environment.”

Investment in clean energy job training could benefit programs like Lane Community College’s Institute for Sustainable Practices, which offers degree programs such as Water Conservation and Energy Management. The ISP is also responsible for implementing the college’s sustainability goals, including being completely carbon neutral by 2050.

Roger Ebbage, Director of the Water and Energy Program at Lane, expressed enthusiasm for the bill’s potential passage.

“Lane can benefit greatly from this clean energy bill,” Ebbage said. “Cap-and-trade investment encourages efficiency, which is what we do here at the Institute for Sustainable Practices.”

Versions of the bill have been in the works for several years, according to Rep. Fahey. However, President Trump’s recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords presents a new leadership opportunity for Oregon on the national stage.

“It’s more important now, more than ever, that Oregon do our part and somehow lead the way,” Rep. Fahey said. “We want to join on to the momentum of what’s already been happening, and add our voice to the fact that we need to transition to a clean energy economy.”

Oregon’s cap-and-trade bill is modeled after similar legislation that took effect in California in 2012. Since then, California has seen a 4 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. If this bill is passed, Oregon businesses have the option to link with California’s pollution allowance marketplace as well as markets in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, further increasing revenue. Similar legislation may be unveiled in Washington state later this year.

Despite the economic potential of the bill, there are concerns that rural and disadvantaged communities would be hit hardest. A study conducted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that the bill could cause the price of energy to rise one to three percent and gas prices could jump as much as 16 cents. The study conceded that rural and low-income Oregonians – who already spend more of their income on transportation – would be more significantly affected.

Furthermore, the Oregon legislature is preparing for a hectic, issue-packed 35-day short session. At a legislative preview conference with the Associated Press, Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick expressed doubts about getting the bill passed.

“My personal opinion is we will most likely not be able to get over the finish line in 35 days, but we need to continue working on it,” Sen. Burdick said.

Despite the wariness of Senate leadership, both Rep. Fahey and Lee Beyer, who represents Springfield in the Oregon Senate, remain optimistic about the bill’s chances of passing.

“This is our best shot to get the ball down the field and do something about climate change,” Sen. Beyer said, “and I think it’s going to make it through the session.”

The 2018 legislative session began Feb. 5. In addition to the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, the legislators will be debating bills regarding the opioid epidemic, the public pension system, campaign finance regulation and the state budget shortfall.

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