Fort George Brewery is facing a local backlash over co-owner Jack Harris’ support of a controversial state House bill to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Harris submitted a letter on behalf of Fort George in February in favor of the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, which would cap carbon emissions and require large industrial facilities, such as Georgia-Pacific’s Wauna Mill, to buy pollution allowances if they exceed the cap.
The bill, an attempt to counter climate change, passed the House on Monday night and now goes to the state Senate.
Fort George’s association with the bill led to a social media firestorm over the weekend after the Silver Salmon Grille announced on Facebook it would boycott the brewery’s products. The Astoria restaurant said it was standing behind truckers and the timber industry.
The Uptown Cafe in Warrenton posted on Facebook that the restaurant would also stop serving Fort George beers.
Harris said he has asked that his letter be removed from the official record. He also said he is apologizing to his co-workers. Fort George is no longer listed as a member of Oregon Business for Climate, a group of around 100 medium and large businesses advocating for the bill.
“I was completely out of line,” Harris said. “I broke company policy. I did not have (the right) to speak for Fort George’s 160 employees, let alone my business partner” Chris Nemlowill.
Oregon Business for Climate includes some of the state’s most popular business interests, from Deschutes Brewery and Dutch Bros. Coffee to Nike and the Portland Trail Blazers. But the backlash against Fort George, and the brewery’s swift retreat, shows how fraught it can be for businesses to get involved in divisive public policy debates.
The Clean Energy Jobs Bill aims to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 to comply with a carbon reduction goal enacted in 2007.
The cap would begin at 25,000 metric tons per facility in 2021 and lower over time to the 2050 goal. Facilities emitting over the cap would buy an increasing amount of pollution allowances over time.
The state would sell many of the allowances at auction and invest the revenue in climate-friendly efforts such as renewable energy, public transit, weatherizing homes and thinning forest debris to lessen the severity of wildfires. Landowners would also be able to sell allowances from carbon-sequestering projects such as forest preserves.
Sawmills, where most of the carbon emissions are naturally influenced, would be exempt from the cap. Electric utilities like PacifiCorp would receive free allowances through 2030.
Trade-exposed businesses like the Wauna Mill would receive free allowances the first year. Georgia-Pacific would pay an estimated $123,000 worth of allowances in 2022, with the expense increasing as the pollution cap lowers.
Opponents argue the pollution caps will raise energy prices, create a competitive disadvantage and cause companies to relocate, all while doing little to address climate change. A state analysis found lowering carbon emission caps would raise gasoline prices 22 cents a gallon by 2021 and $3 a gallon by 2050.
State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, whose district includes several major industrial complexes, including the Wauna Mill, opposes the bill.
The United Steelworkers, a union representing more than 600 workers at the Wauna Mill, has raised fears the mill could close or relocate outside Oregon if the bill passes. Georgia-Pacific, owned by Koch Industries, has declined to comment.
Timber Unity, a group of regional loggers, millers, truckers and their families, formed to oppose the cap-and-trade legislation and state House Bill 2007, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by prohibiting the use of heavy-duty trucks with engines predating 2007 in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.
Loren Hutnick, a trucker and spokesman for the group who opposed similar legislation in California, said the bills unfairly target rural areas. “We don’t make a bunch of money on our trucks, and we can’t afford another fuel tax,” he said.
Supporters argue the infusion of up to $700 million in allowances will provide a shot in the arm to fight climate change and create a more climate-friendly economy.
Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, voted for the bill on Monday night. Rep. Brad Witt, from Clatskanie, and Rep. Caddy McKeown, from Coos Bay, were the only two Democrats who voted against the bill.
An independent analysis by Berkeley Economic Advising and Research found the state’s economy would grow by 2.5 percent and add 23,000 jobs by 2050 under the bill, outweighing any increase in energy prices.