Carbon tax proposal runs into generation gap
SALEM — About 75 people answered the legislative Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction's call for comments Monday, Feb. 18, weighing in on a proposed sweeping change that would put a price on carbon emissions.
The second public hearing ran nearly three hours and again the bulk of the testimony was in favor of the cap-and-trade proposal, which would impact every Oregonian in multiple ways, from increasing the cost of heating a home to providing cleaner air.
The testimony started with 10 high school and middle school students. They spoke with a level of desperation unmatched by most witnesses, even those leading businesses or industries that stand to be financially pummeled by the legislation.
In mid-February, the committee finished stakeholder testimony and on Feb. 18 finished public testimony from the Capitol. The committee will travel the state to take testimony in several cities. The panel also will hear video testimony from across the state.
The proposal, similar versions of which stalled in past sessions, would set a 52 million metric ton cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Individual polluters emitting 25,000 metric tons per year in industries covered by the cap would have to pay for their pollution through allowances auctioned off by the state. Over time the cap would become more restrictive until reaching 11 million tons in 2050.
•Springfield: Friday, Feb. 22 — Springfield City Hall, Council Chamber (noon to 3 p.m.)
•Medford: Saturday, Feb. 23 — Central Medford High School Auditorium (9 a.m. to noon)
•Remote: Monday, Feb. 25 — Remote testimony (live video feed from rural locations)
•The Dalles: Friday, March 1 — The Dalles Civic Auditorium, Community Room (noon to 3 p.m.)
•Bend: Saturday, March 2 — Central Oregon Community College, Cascade Hall, Room 246-248 (9 a.m. to noon)
The idea is to put pressure on polluters to find cleaner ways of doing business, whether it's switching to a greener energy source or finding ways to manufacture products with less pollution. Companies that succeed could then sell their unused allowances. The state would spend polluters' money on climate change projects of all sizes, with a priority being placed on low-income and minority communities, as well as those most impacted by climate change.
Fate of a generation
Jeremy Clark, a 14-year-old from Portland, has been lobbying the Legislature for three years to support the proposal. He passionately recited a list of stats with dizzying speed. He talked about the parts of the state he's seen burn to the ground as drought and hotter summers made Oregon's forests more susceptible to wildfires. He said the world as we know it could disappear.
"What will we call Glacier National Park if there are no glaciers?" he said. "What will we call Iceland if there is no ice?"
The youngest generation's civic engagement became a theme for the night, as many adults harkened back to their words, calling them inspiring. But not all were in favor. Several witnesses from the agriculture sector talked about how an estimated 16 cent per gallon increase in gasoline would cost them tens of thousands of dollars every year. The agriculture would not be directly covered by the cap, but would pay higher fuel costs to suppliers to who are.
Mike McCarthy of the Hood River County Farm Bureau said he supports the concerns the younger witnesses have about the climate. But he and his fellow farmers can't eat the costs cap-and-trade would bring.
Linn County Farm Bureau President Don Cersovski said his farm would see a $30,000 increase in fuel alone. The county's lone pulp mill would shut down, boosting the unemployment rate. Then, local farmers wouldn't be able to use the mill's waste products on their crops.
Some downplayed the urgency to address climate change. Ronnie Downs, a flagger who works on highway projects, said the lawmakers should focus on filling the deficit in Oregon's public employees' pension plan.
Others denied the existence of climate change. John Woods said going through the testimony reminded him of hysteria from decades past. "We had a doomsday prophet 20 years ago named Al Gore," he said.
Another man suggested there were ways to get more carbon in the air. Robert Freres of Freres Lumber Co. suggested an emissions-related tax credit.
Les Poole of Clackamas County said the legislation jumps to conclusions. "We are rushing this," he said.
But overall, most testifying in favor of acting. A pious panel of two rabbis and two reverends spoke out in support, as did an 86-year-old who said she was fighting for a better future for her grandchildren.
Casey Kulla, a Yamhill County commissioner who operates an organic farm, talked about irrigation and wildfire mitigation projects in his county that the cap-and-trade program could finance.
Some asked for a stronger version, such as giving away fewer allowances and setting more ambitious emission-reduction targets, while others feared the proposal would again die. Teens talked about the summer smoke that has become commonplace in Oregon, preventing them from playing outdoor sports for several days each year.
Perhaps Jeremy, the 14-year-old Portland boy, saw it in the simplest way. The fate of his generation, he said, rests for legislators on two words: "Yay or nay."
Reporter Aubrey Wieber: firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-575-1251. Wieber is a reporter for Salem Reporter who works for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, the Pamplin Media Group, and Salem Reporter.