Hope for cap-and-trade bill fades as clock ticks

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 2, 2018

An effort by Oregon lawmakers to pass a cap-and-trade bill this year is faltering.

The measure has been viewed as one of greens’ best opportunities nationally for passing significant legislation at the state level this year (Climatewire, Nov. 29, 2017). But in a sign of the challenges facing proponents, House supporters last week proposed an amendment that would postpone a vote on key details of the bill until 2019.

Supporters concede it looks increasingly unlikely that the bill will pass this year. Oregon’s one-month, off-year legislative session closes in early March. No votes are currently scheduled for companion bills in the state House and Senate.

“The closer we get to the end of session, the longer the odds,” said Wendy Gerlitz, policy director for the NW Energy Coalition.

The bill would pave the way for Oregon to join California’s cap-and-trade program, making it the second state with an economywide cap on carbon emissions.

Democrats control the Senate, House and governor’s office in Salem, and party leaders labeled the bill a priority entering the session. Yet the measure appears to be a victim of the compressed timeline facing lawmakers this year.

Large utilities like PacifiCorp, while supportive of efforts to price carbon, have expressed concerns about trying to complete such a complicated bill in the span of a month (Climatewire, Feb. 8).

The utility declined comment this week, but in testimony to lawmakers last month, PacifiCorp Senior Vice President Scott Bolton said, “We should take the time to get this right.”

Supporters say they have not relinquished hope for passing the measure this session. Cap-and-trade bills have been proposed in the Oregon Legislature for several years now, and a large working group spent months leading into the 2018 session hammering out the details.

“This policy is unfinished business,” said Jana Gastellum, climate program director for the Oregon Environmental Council. “The state put in place goals a decade ago in 2007, and it’s time to make those goals real. There is a tremendous amount of support for this policy.”

Indeed, failure this year looks to be only temporary, observers said, with the bill facing improved prospects in 2019. Increasingly, they said, it looks more like a question of when Oregon passes cap and trade, not if.

Some 500 people turned out to advocate for the measure during a lobbying day last month, and it has the support of several large business interests. A growing number of companies have called for passing a bill, including Nike Inc., which is headquartered in Beaverton. Merritt Paulson, the son of former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the owner of the Portland Timbers soccer team, co-wrote a widely circulated op-edsupporting the measure.

“I think people are going to be disappointed, but I think that’s our fault for having set expectations that are too high and understating the difficulty of getting something through a short session,” said Angus Duncan, president of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

“That said, I am highly confident we can get it through in 2019,” he added. “As heavily as the odds were stacked against getting through in 2018, that’s how favorably they are stacked in favor of getting through in 2019.”