Cap and trade—or alternatively cap and invest—is intended to address human causes of global warming by a progressive capping of greenhouse gas emissions and imposing a cost on resulting pollution. The aim is to encourage companies to pollute less and to use more efficient technology or rely more on renewable sources of energy. The substantial disagreement on the costs and benefits of SB 1530 is discussed below.

Oregon’s constitution requires that a two-thirds majority of the 30-member Senate must be present in order to conduct business, including voting on bills. With there being 12 Republican members of the Senate, two would have had to be present. Only one showed up: Sen. Tim Troop of Bend. That put all pending legislation on hold—with the possibility of not being acted upon this legislative session.

This isn’t just about SB 1530. With this year’s legislative session ending on March 8, there is a host of bills, most with strong bipartisan support, that the Republican walkout may prevent being acted upon. Among them are those that provide appropriations for mental health, wildfire prevention and homelessness; that would expand an urban growth boundary to enable the creation of additional affordable housing; that provide much needed additional protection for foster children sent to live in out-of-state institutions; and that would protect users of insulin from unaffordable high prices—a bill that came out of the House by a 47-8 vote.

The walkout could also tie up $12 million in Eastern Oregon flood recovery funds, particularly in Umatilla County where rapid flooding consumed hundreds of homes, damaged businesses and infra structure, and killed one woman in early February. I wonder how the Republican legislators who represent that area rationalize the consequences of their walkout on their constituents.

The 11 Republican who walked out represent just 36% of Oregon’s population. The Republican House members who departed to places unknown the following day represent roughly that same population. The Republican’s “my way or no way” exodus clearly imposes minority rule on our State Legislature. In the meantime they receive their full monetary compensation for serving as legislators.

Timber Unity’s Mike Pihl’s opinion piece, entitled “cap and trade is a bad idea” is intended to justify the walkout. His focus is on what he claims would have the greatest impact on the most people—that “if this bill passes Oregonians can expect their fuel costs to rise tremendously.”

His justification is his claim that” “Under House Bill 2020 (my emphasis), the legislature’s fiscal office estimated that gas prices would rise from 19 to 72 cents in the first year alone, with prices climbing higher as each year passes.” He goes on to say: “Imagine that—paying an additional 72 cents a gallon for gas alone.”

A 72 cents increase in the price of a gallon of gas that might be caused by the passage of SB 1530 is something that can be imaged only by those who are dedicated to defeating that legislation. Note that Pihl’s reference is to the possible effects of last year’s HB 2020 …not to this year’s SB 1530. An editorial in the March 1 Oregonian entitled “Walkout ignores gains in cap-and-trade bill” notes that the many changes that address concerns about last years HB 2020, include exempting “much of rural Oregon from increases in gas prices.”

This year’s SB 1530 requires companies importing fuel into Oregon to pay for emissions those fuels will generate. The Salem-based Oregon Capital Bureau publication reports that SB 1530 could increase gas prices by about 20 cents per gallon exclusively in the Portland metro area in 2022, with the possibility of prices increasing by 1 to 2 cents per gallon annually thereafter.

That wouldn’t have any effect on Tillamook County and 16 other Western Oregon counties until 1925 when there will evidence of SB 1530’s actual impact on the Portland metro area. The 17 counties in Eastern Oregon are wholly exempt from experiencing any price increases—a provision that acknowledges greater travel distance in those counties.

The companion Oregon Senate Bill 1578 would provide a tax credit for people making less than $65,000 per year who live in areas of the state where there may be price increases resulting from passage of SB 1530. Those credits would be higher in counties subject to the regulation that are more rural, where the average resident travels longer distances by car.

University of Oregon law professor Greg Dotson, who is an expert in environmental and energy law, reports: “When a system similar to SB 1530 went into effect in California (in 2013) critics predicted gas prices in that state would spike. In fact that hasn’t happened.” He observes that: “The global oil market largely dictates gas prices.”

The Oregon Capital Bureau further reports that the Oregon Carbon Policy Office “doesn’t expect electricity utilities, which already have to abide by state laws moving them to clean energy sources, to increase rates as a result of cap and trade.” The Citizens’ Utility Board, which advocates for residential and small business customers, said in its analysis that SB 1530 “should not have any harmful effects on utility consumers.””

Professor Greg Dotson observes that “a regional greenhouse gas program covering 10 states in the Northwest and Mid-Atlantic has reduced carbon emission while power bills have deceased … (due to) resulting efforts to improve energy efficiency.”

Cody Mann’s Headlight article quotes two Oregon State legislators who claim there are no pulp mills in California as the result of that state adopting a cap and trade program in 2013. But I find a list of 16 pulp mills in current operation when I goggle “pulp mills in California.” I’m reminded that we must take care in believing what politicians say to us when they are promoting a particular agenda.

As noted above, there have substantial modification in SB 1530 that address concerns raised by last year’s HB 2020. This has enabled some crucial changes in Senate support for a cap and trade measure. In 2019, HB 2020 would have passed if there had been only two Democrat defections.

Instead there were three, including the two that represent Tillamook County: Senator’s Betsy Johnson and Arnie Roblan. Now there is only one—my DINO friend Betsy Johnson. This means that SB 1530 would have passed by now if all but one Republican Senator hadn’t imposed their minority rule by walking out and preventing the required two-third quorum for acting upon legislation.

Senator Roblan’s support of SB 1530 reflects both modifications to last year’s HB 2020 and what he heard from students while touring schools from around the state. He reports: “The anxiety I see on kids today… (is) totally different from anything I’ve seen before ... kids who are worried about their future and don’t think adults are doing anything to help them.” Senator Roblan—a former high school principle—gets it. Young people have valid concerns about how the climate crises impacts their future lives on their planet …concerns that should be shared by all of us.

Opponents of SB 1530 range from those who deny the role humans play in climate change to those who accept the worldwide scientific consensus that it plays a decisive role—but are unwilling to “walk their talk.” The Oregonian’s March 1 editorial notes that Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertshieger, Jr. of Grants Pass, “ has made statements in interviews and on social media reflecting his skepticism of the role humans play in climate change.” The editorial concludes: “No matter how much Democrats try, there’s no compromise that can—or should—accommodate such intentional ignorance.”

Those who oppose meaningful measures to address the climate crises— that is well on its way to becoming a climate catastrophe—often argue that anything Oregon might do has very little effect on mitigating any such crises. I agree that we need coordinated action by all of our world’s countries, with ours providing leadership and an encouraging example.

But with “our” current president being a climate change denier …who has withdrawn our country from the Paris climate accord in deference to his support from the fossil fuel industry—we are relegated to working at the grass roots level, with Oregon joining the 11 other states that have acted to curtail greenhouse gas omissions …thereby encouraging more states to step forward.

Rosa Parks had a substantial impact on the civil rights movement when she walked from the back to the front of a Montgomery Alabama bus in 1955. So has the Swedish teenager Greta Sternberg when last year she began her solitary Friday vigils that led to hundreds of thousands of young people taking to the streets to protest the inaction of their countries “leaders.”

Individual recycling has very limited impact, but we do it because we believe in the moral imperative of acting as we want others to act, with the cumulative effect having a substantial positive impact. The same could be said about voting in most cases. Actions—whether they are by single individuals or states—matter.

There is a lot of political smoke being blown that obscures the need to take meaningful action to prevent the current climate crises from becoming a climate catastrophe that irreversibly destroys life on our planet. Those of us of an advanced age that limits our remaining time on this planet must give substantially more consideration to the legacy we leave for succeeding generations. If we don’t, they will have pervasive reasons for regretting our irresponsible existence.

For more information on the impact of SB 1530, I recommend goggling the Oregon Capital Bureau’s “Oregon ‘Cap and Trade’ Legislation: Here’s an explanation of basic questions.”

Victor Affolter was born and raised in Tillamook County. He has degrees from Stanford University and the University of Oregon in political science and political economy. Affolter served for 18 years as Tillamook County's Planning and Community Development Director before becoming a land use planning consultant.


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