Oregon is poised to pass cap-and-trade climate policy, joining California

June 18, 2019

By The Associated Press at Los Angeles Times on June 17, 2019

Oregon is on the precipice of becoming the second state after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program, a market-based approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions behind global warming.

Supporters call it the United States’ most progressive climate policy, saying it not only cuts emissions but invests in transitioning the state economy and infrastructure to better prepare for more intense weather events as climate change worsens.

“We have an opportunity to invest a substantial amount into low-income communities off the backs of the 100 or so major polluters that caused this problem,” said Shilpa Joshi, with the lobbying group Renew Oregon. Joshi has spent years working with dozens of organizations around the state to help shape the final legislation.

Cap and trade has been a top priority this year for Oregon's majority Democrats, and Gov. Kate Brown has said she would sign the measure, noting in a statement that “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally” on climate policy.

Though the program’s approval is shaping up to be a sure bet, a decade’s worth of baggage from California's cap-and-trade program has fractured support for the policy among environmental groups. Some question whether Oregon can truly meet its lofty emission goals and keep its promise to prioritize investments in low-income communities and Native American tribes’ ability to prepare for a changing climate.

The division underscores a larger fight on the left over how to best tackle climate change, which scientists warn poses a global existential threat. Some progressives have balked at any solutions less than those outlined in the Green New Deal, a sweeping climate platform from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) that calls for the decarbonization of nearly every industry.

“Strong climate policy requires steep regulations on business and a total transformation of our current infrastructure,” said Shawn Fleek with OPAL Environmental Justice, one of the main organizations on the left against the bill. “Cap and trade does none of that. Just like in California, Oregon’s bill has instead turned into a Frankenstein’s monster in handouts to industry.”

Under a cap-and-trade program, the state puts an overall limit on emissions and auctions off pollution permits or “allowances” for each ton of carbon that industries plan to emit. Only the largest polluters are targeted, and the idea is that as the emissions limit becomes stricter over time, it will be in industries’ financial interest to switch to green technology. Oregon’s program would begin in 2021, and the state wants to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

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