science environment

California Billionaire Tom Steyer Sees Oregon As Key Player In Climate Change Battle

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Dec. 8, 2017 10:54 p.m.

California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer is hoping Oregon will be the next state to fight the Trump administration’s policies on climate change.

Oregon Democrats are working on legislation for the upcoming February session that would cap greenhouse gas emissions. Steyer, who was active in California’s push to pass cap-and-trade legislation, is lending his financial support to the state’s progressive endeavor.


“When President Trump is trying to drag us backwards, the kind of leadership that Oregonians are talking about is so important,” Steyer told OPB.

Steyer has long invested in state elections, including in Oregon. More recently, he launched a national campaign calling for U.S. President Donald Trump to be impeached. The effort earned the ire of Trump, who tweeted that Steyer was “wacky” and “totally unhinged.”

Steyer’s group, NextGen America, recently dropped about $200,000 in the state. The money will be used to buy advertisements and given directly to the environmental advocacy group Renew Oregon, which has backed the state’s carbon-curbing efforts.

The Oregon legislation would create an overall cap on greenhouse gas emissions the state is producing. Each year, the cap would be reduced. The goal is to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to a level of 80 percent below 1990 levels, according to Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, who is on the work group crafting the policy. The measure would also mandate the state’s biggest polluters start paying for their output.


Brad Reed, with Renew Oregon, estimates about 100 business in Oregon would be affected by the initial cap.

“The brewery and the grocery store are not going to be (impacted),” Reed said. “We’re talking about the big players, like oil companies that aren’t even in the state but import fuel here … Heavy manufacturing companies, like cement companies tend to have a lot of emissions — the heavy industrial type (of businesses).”

Money raised by creating the cap-and-trade market would be reinvested in programs that further reduce climate change, Dembrow said. The money would be spent on projects that promote carbon sequestration or invested in alternative energies or industries already harmed by climate change, such as the shellfish industry.

More specific details of how the program would work and the money it would generate are expected to be unveiled in coming weeks.

Some policymakers have questioned whether such a complicated proposal should be tackled during the short legislative session, which only lasts about six weeks.

“Democrats want to use the short session to adopt a new program that would allow un-elected bureaucrats to, in essence, raise taxes at will,” House Republican Leader Mike McLane said in a statement. “The carbon tax could end up costing Oregon families hundreds of dollars every year with no meaningful impact on global climate change."

McLane slammed Steyer's involvement, saying Oregonians should be skeptical of the out-of-state money.

Steyer said he believes Oregon could serve as a progressive symbol both nationally and internationally.

“Oregon is in a position where it can be a leader in terms of its energy policies and where it can have substantial impact on the real world," Steyer said, adding he thinks, "Oregon has a very important role to play."