Supporters of a proposed carbon cap and reinvestment program in Oregon are planning to kick off their statewide campaign Nov. 4 in Pendleton, pushing for lawmakers to pass the bill during the 2018 short legislative session.
The so-called “cap and invest” bill would place a limit on greenhouse gas emissions, charge companies and utilities for exceeding the limit and reinvest the money in clean energy projects such as wind and solar power, electric vehicles and public transit.
Renew Oregon, the coalition backing the bill, estimates it would raise $700 million annually while promoting new clean energy jobs. Gov. Kate Brown is also on board, announcing her support at a screening of the Al Gore climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.”
On Wednesday, Renew Oregon hosted a public meeting at the Pendleton Center for the Arts to discuss the benefits of cap and invest. Speakers included Don Sampson, climate change program director for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
Sampson, an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and former executive director of the CTUIR from 2003-2010, said the effects of climate change were on full display this summer across Oregon, as wildfire smoke filled the skies and dropped air quality to unhealthy levels.
“It’s only going to continue to get worse, unfortunately, unless we do something,” Sampson said.
About 15 people attended the meeting, and Sampson said they intend to return to Pendleton for a rally Saturday, Nov. 4. Details will be posted on the Renew Oregon website.
“We want to spread the word and get people excited about this,” Sampson said.
Also on hand Wednesday were Jana Gastellum, climate program director for the Oregon Environmental Council, and Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council in northern California. Frisch provided some background on California’s Cap-and-Trade Program, which took effect in 2012 and has since been renewed through 2030.
It may not be perfect, but Frisch said the program has helped to grow California’s economy while shrinking carbon emissions. He emphasized that rural Oregonians and businesses need to be involved in crafting a bill that will benefit local communities, and not just the major metro areas.
“We can effect what happens in our future,” Frisch said.
Earlier in the day, Frisch and Gastellum met with Robert Echenrode, general manager of the Umatilla Electric Cooperative, and Gary Neal, general manager of the Port of Morrow. The most recent iteration of the bill — Senate Bill 1070 — would set a carbon cap at 250,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year. Beyond that, companies and utilities would need to buy emission allowances on the open market.
Ted Case, executive director of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperative Association in Wilsonville, said UEC would be one of three consumer-owned utilities over the 25,000-ton threshold. The association is working to determine what exactly that would mean for Umatilla County ratepayers.
“Nobody knows yet,” Case said. “We’re looking at this very carefully.”
A spokesman for UEC added that the co-op buys more than 90 percent of its electricity wholesale from the Bonneville Power Administration hydro system, a carbon-free source of power.
“What’s undeniable is we do have a clean resource,” Case said.
Neal, who has overseen dramatic growth at the Port of Morrow, said there is some concern among businesses about how the legislation will be drafted. For example, Neal said the bill needs to consider what is already being done locally to save energy, and avoid putting the area at a disadvantage.
“We think we’re already the most advanced area in the country for pumping water,” Neal said. “But we don’t get any credits for what we’ve done.”
Thanks in large part to food processors and burgeoning data centers at the port, Morrow County employment has risen more than 40 percent over pre-recession levels and its workers are paid the third-highest average wages statewide. However, Neal cautioned that development could be slowed depending on how cap and invest is implemented.
“You can see businesses and industry considering doing things outside of Oregon if it’s not crafted in a way that’s more of an incentive than a penalty,” he said.
Mike Mercer, a consultant with Environmental Entrepreneurs in Portland, points to strides in the clean energy industry across Eastern Oregon. According to data from the organization, there are at least 235 clean energy jobs in Senate District 29, represented by Bill Hansell, and 95 clean energy jobs in Senate District 30, represented by Ted Ferrioli. Ferrioli’s district also leads the state in solar power generation, with 50,000 kilowatts of capacity.
Mercer argues that cap and invest would only bolster those figures.
“Jobs are being created across the state,” he said. “As cost comes down, it just becomes that much more reasonable for these renewable energy projects to move forward.”
The bill would gradually reduce the carbon cap over time, enforcing the state’s existing climate goals with a final target of 80 percent carbon reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.
A report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality released earlier this year suggested a carbon market could be a cost-effective mechanism for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, though low-income and rural communities may be disproportionately affected since they spend a higher proportion of their income on energy and are more reliant on vehicle travel and heavy machinery using fossil fuels.
To offset those impacts, the study recommended using revenue from the program toward worker training, energy efficiency projects or energy bill rebates.
Sampson referred to the CTUIR for examples of successful projects, specifically the 50-kilowatt wind turbine and 123-kilowatt solar carports installed at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute to offset the building’s energy costs.
Clean energy has been part of the tribal culture for thousands of years, Sampson said.
“We need to renew that effort, reinvigorate it and bring it back into our current lives,” he said.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.