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Southern Oregonians Blast, Praise Carbon Reduction Bill

Liam Moriarty/JPR News
Audience members at the hearing on Oregon's proposed cap and trade carbon reduction bill held at Central Medford High School on saturday, Feb. 23.

An ambitious bill meant to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon got a hearing in Medford over the weekend. Members of a joint legislative committee listened as supporters and detractors of the legislation made their cases.

It was pretty clear where audience members stood on House Bill 2020 even before the hearing at Central Medford High School began on Saturday.

Some people wore bright orange shirts to show their concern over climate change. Many others wore the fluorescent yellow traffic vests recently made famous by French protesters who descended on Paris and other cities to show their displeasure with a fuel tax increase.

And when given the chance to testify, many at the hearing didn’t hold back.

Jackson County retiree Ron Martin said, “The Oregon economy will collapse, people on fixed incomes will be bankrupt within a short time, not able to afford even to heat their homes.” Phoenix resident Isabella Tibbetts said, “I’m here to encourage our state leaders to take urgent and aggressive action to address climate change now.” “The largest corporations will do just fine under this bill, while the poor in our communities are going to get crushed,” said Phoenix Mayor Chris Luz.

Under the proposed legislation, Oregon would put a cap on carbon emissions that would apply directly to about a hundred large companies that emit a lot of carbon dioxide. They include utilities, fuel suppliers, cement manufacturers and more. That carbon cap would be gradually reduced, as would the number of permits that allow companies to emit CO2.

The idea is that by putting a price on emissions, companies will be motivated to find ways to reduce them. Companies that have cut their emissions could sell their unneeded pollution permits to companies having a harder time meeting those targets; hence, “cap and trade.”

Only large polluters would be subject to the cap.  But at Saturday’s hearing, Steve Vincent, with Avista Utilities, said the company would pass those costs on to ratepayers.

“We estimate the bill will cause a rate increase for residential customers of 19 percent in year one, scaling to 48 percent by 2035.”

Vincent said Avista’s commercial customers would see even higher rate increases.

Others predicted broad impacts on smaller businesses, too. Jacksonville farmer Phil Golason …

“This is war against producers,” he said. “We receive absolutely no benefit from the bill and a substantially increased cost for electrical power, irrigation, lighting and heat for our greenhouses, fuel for tractors and trucks and increased cost of fertilizers.”

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said the bill would trigger wide-ranging price increases that would make life harder, especially for low-income Oregonians.

“I mean, how can we consider statewide rent control, but at the same time consider legislation that causes nearly every other expense for these folks to rise uncontrollably?”

But Ted Gibbs of Ashland said focusing on the costs of reducing carbon emissions ignores the economic toll of climate-caused droughts, wildfire and extreme weather.

“In the end, the cost of failure in this task will far outweigh all other economic considerations.”

An economic analysis of House Bill 2020 by a California-based research firm recently concluded the measure would have a relatively small impact on prices but would create thousands of new jobs. Dale Porter, owner of an energy storage business in Jackson County, said the renewable power industry is already creating lots of new jobs.

“This is not an industry that is conducive to automation,” he said. “This is an industry that requires local labor and promises to grow exponentially.”

Opponents repeatedly made the point that, since Oregon generates only a tiny fraction of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions, anything we do to reduce those emissions would have no real impact on global climate change. But Linda Price said that’s a recipe for paralysis.

“Just because our emissions are smaller does not negate our responsibility to act.”

Legislative Democrats have the votes to muscle this bill through and send it to Governor Kate Brown, who’s signaled her support. But legislative leaders have said they understand the far-reaching impact the measure will have. And they say they plan to proceed carefully to get a proper balance for the environment and the economy.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.