Oregon carbon pricing unlikely to pass this year

SALEM — State legislation to require massive polluters to pay for their carbon emissions is unlikely to move forward this year, legislative leaders said Monday.

House Democrats lack enough votes to pass the “cap and invest” bill, said House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte.

Oregon Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, echoed doubt about the proposal’s prospects.

“It’s an issue that needs to be dealt with. My personal opinion is that we most likely will not be able to get over the finish line,” said Burdick, who supports the proposal.

But House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said she has not given up on enacting a cap and invest program during the Legislature’s 35-day session that opens in February.

“I continue to believe there is room for negotiation, and all I would say is like the New England Patriots, if we get on the field during a snowstorm, we are going to work hard on the field and we are going to get that ball … across the goal line,” Kotek said.

Gov. Kate Brown said she would like to see lawmakers move “as quickly as possible on legislation that reduces carbon emissions.”

“The reason why I think that is important … is that we are seeing the impacts of climate change on a regular basis,” she said.

The lawmakers made the comments during The Associated Press’s legislative preview at the state Capitol Monday when lawmakers announce their priorities for the upcoming session.

The cap and invest legislation, introduced by Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, would charge Oregon industries for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and use the revenue to invest in projects meant to slow climate change.

The legislation re-emerged this year after stalling last session and after several years of work on the proposal. House Democratic leadership had identified the legislation as a top priority for the 2018 policymaking session, but critics argue the bill is more appropriate for the Legislature’s five-month-long session in 2019, when there would be more time for refinement.

Modeled after a program in California, Oregon’s so-called “Clean Energy Jobs” bill would set a cap of less than 25,000 tons of CO2 per year for each company, beginning in 2021.

An estimated 100 Oregon companies that emit more than that amount would be required to buy market-priced allowances for the excess. The “price” on emissions is designed to encourage businesses to adopt technologies and practices that reduce their carbon footprint. The allowances would be sold at a North American auction and generate revenue that would be invested in green-energy and environmentally friendly agriculture projects.

The program would eventually generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that would be invested in projects that slow climate change, Dembrow said. The exact cost of the program has yet to be calculated, but previous estimates pegged revenue at about $700 million per year.

Carbon trading markets are gaining momentum around the globe. Washington state recently proposed a state cap and invest program. China has plans to launch a carbon market later this year that would account for about a quarter of that country’s industrial emissions, according to E & E News, a Washington, D.C., environment and energy publication.

No cap and trade system in the world has resulted in significant emissions reductions, in part because caps still remain relatively high and businesses haven’t had to pay out a lot of money, according to E & E News. But the programs have “served as political consensus builders that have gotten industry accustomed to climate policies,” E & E News’s Debra Kahn wrote in December.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.

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