A proposal that would sharply reduce Oregon's greenhouse gas emissions is one of the more hotly contested pieces of policy making its way through the Capitol, with environmental advocates calling for stricter rules and businesses predicting doom.
Now, that debate is set to hit the road.
Bowing to concerns from Republican lawmakers, Democrats on Tuesday announced a set of four “road show” hearings aimed at soliciting feedback from a wider swath of citizens, and an additional hearing that will involve remote testimony from Eastern Oregon and the coast.
The dates and locations of the planned hearings of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction are:
- Feb. 22, Springfield: Springfield City Hall, Council Chamber, 12-3 p.m.
- Feb. 23, Medford: Medford City Hall, Council Chamber, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
- Feb. 25, Remote Testimony: Possibly from Baker City and Newport will be fed to a hearing in the Capitol
- March 1, The Dalles: The Dalles Civic Auditorium, Community Room, 12-3 p.m.
- March 2, Bend: Central Oregon Community College, Cascade Hall, Room 246-248, 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Republicans, who appear unified in opposing the cap-and-trade bill, House Bill 2020, have repeatedly suggested the policy is being speedily rammed through because Democrats hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Shortly before the bill was unveiled, Republican leaders called on Democrats to take the proposal to voters around the state.
“Given most Oregonians have no clue concerning the fiscal hammer hurtling their direction, it is imperative they learn firsthand from the Carbon Reduction Committee,” said Greg Stiles, spokesman for the House Republican caucus. “When the bill was finally presented publicly there were plenty of questions, even from Democrats.”
Cap and trade has been debated in Oregon for years — most notably in 2018, when some Democratic lawmakers wanted to pass a proposal during the Legislature’s short session. The bill was ultimately scrapped to allow for more time to study the issue.
But another year of study has not blunted the controversy.
In its current form, HB 2020 would set a cap on overall greenhouse gas emissions in the state, and reduce it over time. It would also charge large polluters — including utilities, fuel importers and industrial facilities — for each ton of greenhouse gas they emit, though some entities would receive breaks.
Since the bill’s release, businesses have lined up to present concerns about cost increases they worry will put them at a disadvantage. For instance, the state’s largest natural gas provider, Northwest Natural, has predicted immediate double-digit price increases for many of its customers under the bill’s current language. It is pressing lawmakers for a better deal under the program.
Businesses that aren’t regulated under the policy have also voiced concern. Farmers and forest industry operators point out that fuel costs would rise under the policy, and suggest they’d be hammered if it passes.
Meanwhile, lawmakers last week heard sunnier predictions from a consultant firm hired to predict how cap-and-trade would impact the state's economy. A report from Berkeley Economic Advising and Research, or BEAR, suggested the cap-and-trade law would be positive for Oregon's economic growth, creating tens of thousands of jobs by 2050.
BEAR managing director David Roland-Holst told lawmakers that while some industries may have a tough time transitioning, price increases due to the policy could be minimized using existing technology.
“There’s a lot of concern about the energy cost influence of permit prices, but I can tell you this will not be significant by comparison to the underlying volatility of the oil markets, let alone the long-term trends,” Roland-Holst said. “We don’t know where those are going.”