More than two dozen Oregon businesses are banding together to fight climate change through a new organization called the Oregon Business Alliance For Climate.
The group’s mission is to mobilize industry support for putting a price on carbon emissions in Oregon. Its 27 founding members include home builder Neil Kelly Company, real estate developer Gerding Edlen, construction company Skanska, Umpqua Bank, New Seasons Market, Widmer Brewing and Willamette Valley Vineyards.
Neil Kelly President Tom Kelly will chair the alliance and Steve Baczko, managing director at NatureBank, will serve as acting director.
Kelly said the group will advocate for state-level action to pass carbon pricing-legislation. Though they haven’t pinned down the details of exactly what that legislation should look like, he said, he’s hoping a voice of support from the business community will help get it passed.
“Climate issues are a threat to our society in general and are a threat to business,” he said. “Business is a very strong agent of social change, and we felt there needed to be a business voice about climate pricing.”
This session the Oregon Legislature considered five different bills aimed at reducing the state's carbon emissions, but none of them have passed. Two of the state's largest business organizations, Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Alliance – together representing around 1,600 businesses – have opposed all five proposals.
Kelly said he knows the alliance won’t get all of the state’s business community on board.
“Not everyone is going to agree with our perspective,” he said. “Those of us involved feel like if we’re going to make a difference regarding climate change we’re going to have to act locally because prospects for federal legislation are not going to be very strong until there’s a change in administration.”
Earlier this month, several of Washington's biggest corporations, including Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks, pledged their support for fighting climate change after President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement.
Steve Clem, a vice president at Skanska USA, said he’s looking forward to seeing carbon pricing in Oregon because of the innovation that will follow.
“When you put a price on carbon, you start to create that challenge to do the right thing,” he said. “We’ve been in contact with some of our customers. The things I do day to day are fairly carbon neutral, but our customers could be challenged by our strong stance on these issues."
Clem said his company is “exporting” a lot of the green building technologies that he would like to use here in Oregon, in part because the low price of electricity in the Northwest means it takes it longer for energy-efficient developments to pay off in energy savings. So, he expects carbon pricing will help incentivize more green building.
Some opponents of statewide carbon regulation say Oregon can’t make a difference in the global climate because it only has a small fraction of the world’s population, but Clem said he doesn't buy that argument.
“That shows a lack of vision and appreciation for what thought leadership can do,” he said. “If we come up with a plan that works, that’s replicable, that gains traction, we can tell our peers ‘The water’s fine, come on in.’ We can make money at it. We can add jobs to the green economy. Then people will say, ‘We’re going to follow the Oregon model,’ and that will be meaningful.”