UMATILLA COUNTY — While tensions continue to boil on both sides of the aisle in the Oregon Legislature over cap and trade, Eastern Oregon counties are making it clear where they stand.
On Wednesday, the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to issue an official letter of opposition against cap-and-trade legislation, while Morrow County Commissioners Melissa Lindsay and Don Russell recently signed a letter of opposition issued by the Eastern Oregon Counties Association.
“This is a horrible piece of legislation,” Russell said. “It’s just bad.”
The EOCA letter, which all three of Umatilla County’s commissioners signed too, includes signatures of representatives from all 14 Eastern Oregon counties and 34 commissioners in total. Along with those in Eastern Oregon, nine other counties have proclaimed opposition to the bill across the state.
As of Thursday, 64% of Oregon’s counties have issued official opposition to cap and trade. Those counties make up 82% of the state’s land mass.
Senate Bill 1530, this session’s revised cap-and-trade bill, would cap carbon emissions for transportation, manufacturing and utility companies throughout the state and require those companies to obtain allowances for each metric ton of emissions per year. Those allowances could be purchased from companies that remain under the cap, with the idea that available allowances will dwindle as the state moves toward its goal of cutting emissions by more than 80% by 2050.
Lindsay said Morrow County received the notice about declaring official opposition from the EOCA on too short of notice this week, so the board was unable to bring it to a vote and issue a letter on behalf of the county.
Umatilla County opted to draft a letter of its own and made a late addition to Wednesday’s agenda in order to vote on it. Commissioner George Murdock said he reworked a few portions provided in the EOCA letter to tailor their opposition specifically to SB 1530 rather than any potential environmental legislation to be considered in the future.
“We’re concerned about the economic impact study that has not been conducted with respect to Senate Bill 1530,” Murdock read from the letter at Wednesday’s meeting. “It’s a premature legislative action. We think it has a negative impact on Eastern Oregon.”
Both Lindsay and Russell listed the lack of an economic study as primary reasons for their opposition as well.
“I understand the state hasn’t performed a fiscal analysis yet, but the small businesses and farmers I’ve talked to have, and they’re nervous,” Linsday said.
Russell said the bill has been complex and confusing since the concept first was put to paper, but what he believes he knows about it is that there will be an unmeasured impact on local economies and that its benefits are unclear.
“This bill has been amended and changed drastically again and again and again,” he said. “For me, how do you even know what it says? I can’t be in favor of something that is constantly changing so much that I can’t understand it.”
While this year’s legislation remains largely the same as last session’s House Bill 2020, which prompted Senate Republicans to leave the state and deny Democrats a quorum to vote on the bill, it also includes some changes directed at easing the economic burden on rural communities, and particularly residents and businesses in Eastern Oregon.
One key amendment dictates that transportation fuel suppliers in the Portland area purchase allowances starting in 2022, while the requirement would expand to all fuel suppliers in counties west of the Cascades in 2025.
Remaining counties would have the choice to opt into the program, which is expected to raise gas prices. The funds raised will be used for climate investments but will only be eligible to participating counties.
“That doesn’t move the needle for me at all,” Russell said of the amendment.
Russell said he’d been told by a sponsor of the bill that an amendment would be added that would protect food processors from the costs of regulations proposed in cap and trade but he’d yet to see it be added.
Food processor Lamb Weston recently opened two plants in Morrow County and Russell said he’d been told by the company that had they known of the costs they’d incur from a cap-and-trade bill, they’d have opened them in Pasco, Washington, instead.
But in addition to opposing what the legislation would do if passed, Morrow and Umatilla county commissioners are opposed to how the Legislature is trying to pass it.
“We’re concerned about the fact that landmark legislation of this type was never intended to be passed in the short session,” Murdock said Wednesday. “And further, that the inclusion of an emergency clause basically precludes future input from the citizens of Oregon.”
Critics of cap and trade have consistently highlighted that the 2020 legislative session, which is supposed to last just 35 days and end on March 8, wasn’t designed for transformational bills, such as SB 1530.
The emergency clause attached to the bill has remained controversial because it allows Gov. Kate Brown to sign it into law immediately after it passes the Legislature. Supporters have argued the bill’s purpose, battling climate change, remains an emergency. But those in opposition still wish for the decision to be up to the people.
“This legislation has been extremely divisive for Oregon,” Russell said. “Something this divisive should be voted on by the public.”