The governors of Oregon and Washington agreed Monday to add new controls on carbon emissions as part of a West Coast strategy to address climate change.
Govs. John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington joined Gov. Jerry Brown of California and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in announcing a shared set of goals for reducing carbon emissions in the region and responding to climate change.
The four leaders signed a new plan that says Oregon will set a price on carbon emissions and Washington will set binding limits while California and B.C. maintain their existing programs.
California has a cap and trade program that sets limits on carbon emissions and allows polluters to buy and sell emission credits. British Columbia has a carbon tax that charges polluters a fee for emissions. The new joint climate and energy plan is designed to align the policies of all four jurisdictions, though it is not legally binding.
Inslee said it’s time for the Pacific Coast region to take action.
“While progress in Washington, DC is strangled by climate deniers, there is no denying the fact that the West Coast is rip-roarin’ and ready to go,” he said at Monday’s announcement.
Inslee this month laid out a cap-and-trade strategy to reduce overall industrial carbon pollution in his state to limit the overall output of carbon dioxide and related pollution.
Together, the leaders of the four governments pledged to account for the costs of carbon pollution – by either putting a price or a cap on carbon emissions – and to link those programs together if possible. They agreed to adopt low-carbon fuel standards that would reduce carbon emissions from transportation and to align their their long-term plans for reducing in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
“Energy is the issue of our time – both globally and here in Oregon. And no single issue will have a greater impact on our state’s economy, environment and quality of life in the coming decade,” Kitzhaber said in remarks distributed to news media. “The central question is whether we will shape our energy future through intentional investment and development, or whether it will shape us. Working together across the West Coast jurisdictions we can build more resilient economies prepared to face the 21st century.”
Kitzhaber has supported a number of approaches, including carbon pricing and green transportation strategies. His 10-year energy plan includes several suggestions for reducing carbon pollution but makes no mention of either a cap-and-trade approach or a carbon tax.
In their agreement, The Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, the four leaders propose expanding the use of zero-emission vehicles such as electric cars so that they make up 10 percent of new vehicle purchases by 2016. They agree to support high-speed rail and a streamlined permitting process for renewable energy projects, and to press for an international climate change agreement in 2015.
“California isn’t waiting for the rest of the world before it takes action on climate change,” Brown said in his prepared comments.
The plan encourages investment in highly efficient “net-zero” buildings that would generate all their own energy. It also outlines the four leaders’ support for federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, more ocean acidification research and an interconnected grid to share renewable electricity across the region.
According to Tim Raphael, a spokesman for Kitzhaber, setting a price on carbon emissions in Oregon could involve building on existing state programs that factor the cost of carbon into utility regulations, such as the requirement that new power plant owners offset a portion of their greenhouse gas emissions.
State Rep. Jules Bailey, D-Portland, said putting a price on carbon in Oregon will likely take an act of the Legislature. He supports a carbon tax similar to the one in British Columbia.
“I think we can pull bipartisan support for something, but it’s going to take awhile for those conversations to happen,” he said.
A bill that passed in the Oregon Legislature this year commissioned a study that will look at how the state might design a carbon-pricing policy. But in the meantime, Bailey said, the carbon tax in British Columbia offers some guidance on how a revenue trade-off – using taxes on carbon emissions to reduce other taxes – could allow for environmental improvement and economic growth.
“They’ve proven they can have one of the best economies in Canada while doing this at the same time,” said Bailey. “Any time you talk about pricing carbon, there’s always the tax discussion, which is difficult. But I think what we can show Oregonians is that we’re going to give them more bang for their buck and we’re able to reduce tax burdens in other areas to have a more efficient environmental policy.”
John Ledger, vice president of the business group Associated Oregon Industries, said a key part of the new agreement is at the very end, where it says the document is “not legally binding.”
If Kitzhaber is proposing a tax on carbon, he said, that translates to a tax on home heating, electricity and gasoline.
“We would oppose a carbon tax in Oregon because it would put manufacturers at a distinct disadvantage compared with other states,” Ledger said. “There was a bill to do a carbon tax, and it got no support at all from the Legislature. There’s interest in talking about that approach at the national level because it puts all the states in the country on equal footing.”
Jan Mitchell, a spokeswoman with the regional investor-owned utility PacifiCorp, said it’s unclear how the different state policies will mesh. Her utility serves customers in six states: Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah.
“With that business footprint, while we support state regulation on energy efficiency and renewable resources where it makes sense and as appropriate for our customers, we continue to believe that climate policies are best addressed not on an individual state-by-state basis, but at the federal level as a broader national policy,” Mitchell said.