Lawmakers to debate hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon

Lawmakers to debate hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon

In this file photo from 2008, coal mined in Wyoming is piled at the power generating station in Boardman operated by Portland General Electric, which agreed to close the plant by 2020. ((Brent Wojahn/Staff))

Ted Sickinger| The Oregonian/OregonLiveBy Ted Sickinger| The Oregonian/OregonLive

on January 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM, updated January 14, 2017 at 7:02 AM

Environmental activists are hoping Oregon lawmakers will act this session to put the third and what could be the most important plank of the state’s climate change action plan in place: hard limits on greenhouse emissions and a market-based price to enforce them.

Legislators passed the contentious low-carbon fuel standard in 2015, which aims to reduce emissions from transportation fuels over time. Last year, they muscled through the Oregon Clean Electricity Plan, which will prohibit electricity from coal-fired plants and require utilities to meet half their customer demand with renewable energy by 2040.

Backers see the so-called carbon cap and invest program as a means to backstop  those bills and apply the emissions caps to a broader set of companies and industrial facilities.

“These work as a suite of policies, but cap and trade is the rubber band,” said Sheldon Zakreski, director of carbon compliance at the Climate Trust.

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, has introduced a new version of carbon cap bill championed last year by former Sen. Chris Edwards. That legislation never got a vote, but Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland and chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, says he’s very supportive.

“We will definitely be working on it this session,” he said. “I know that there will be other proposals out there related to carbon pricing, and elements of them may end up incorporated into this one.”

Last year, the legislature asked the Department of Environmental Quality to study whether Oregon should take a market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The agency recently released a draft of that study, which found that a carbon cap and trade system would offer a flexible, cost effective mechanism for assuring greenhouse gas reductions and that the effects on the state economy would likely be small.

It’s a complicated and controversial concept, however, and is landing at a time when lawmakers are trying to pass an expensive transportation package and backfill a $1.7 billion budget deficit. It is likely to face heavy pushback from utilities and manufacturers who say it will put Oregon at an economic disadvantage.

But advocates insist there’s no time to waste. Oregon already is falling behind on the carbon reduction goals the legislature set in 2007. Projections show it’s unlikely to meet its 2020 goal, and at the current trajectory, will fall well short of long-term goals.

Meanwhile, they see the incoming Trump administration preparing to reverse federal climate policies and contend it’s imperative for states to act.

“What we’ve seen in the last 10 years is a verbal commitment without enforceable limits. It’s time to get serious about this,” said Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council. “Doubling down on renewables was an important part of the state’s strategy on climate change but doesn’t replace the need for enforceable limits.”

Senate Bill 557 would repeal the state’s existing emissions goals, replacing them with a new goal for 2025 and hard caps for 2035 and 2050. In 2050, emissions of carbon dioxide would be capped at least 75 percent below 1990 levels.

To force compliance, each facility or company emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year would be required to buy allowances from the state to cover each metric ton of emissions, starting in 2021. The state would set a floor price for the allowances, and gradually ratchet down the number auctioned each year – reducing supply and increasing cost.

As the price of allowances increase, so would incentive to reduce emissions. Companies that didn’t comply would be penalized.

Those are the basics. But it gets a lot more complicated. The state would issue some quantity of free allowances to electric utilities and “trade exposed” industries. Proceeds from the sale of those allowances would go toward reducing rate impacts for utilities’ low-income or industrial customers, or protecting heavy energy users from costs that might force them to move to another state – called leakage.

According to the Department of Environmental Quality, the program could affect  about 100 companies or facilities in the state, ranging from fuel suppliers and electric utilities to high-tech manufacturers and paper mills.

Based on the state’s current emissions levels and the price of allowances in California’s cap and trade system, Oregon’s allowance auctions could generate in excess of $300 million annually, the majority of it from transportation fuels.

That’s where the “invest” part comes in.

The bill would set up several funds to recycle allowance proceeds into carbon reduction efforts. Money generated from the transportation sector would have to fund transportation-related projects, so it would go into a climate investments account within the state highway fund. Money from other industries would go into two other accounts and be distributed in grants for climate resilience measures, disadvantaged communities and renewable energy projects.

The bill establishes a slew of committees, including a new greenhouse gas cap oversight committee, a 25-member state commission on climate change, a climate change research institute at Oregon State University, and an advisory committee on climate investments in disadvantaged communities.

If the bill makes it out of committee, it is likely to face heavy opposition from big energy producers and users. The state’s largest electric utilities, for instance, backed last year’s “coal to clean bill,” which provides the opportunity for them to make big new investments in renewable energy.  But they do not support more carbon legislation.

“We don’t think we should layer on more regulations that stand to increase costs without actually resulting in any further carbon reductions from what we’ve committed to do,” said Steve Corson, a spokesman for PGE.

But last year’s coal-to-clean bill didn’t actually commit electric utilities to specific greenhouse gas reductions, and environmental groups are worried they will replace the coal plants they plan to shutter with new natural gas-fired plants. PGE, for instance, is contemplating building two new gas plants at the site of its coal plant in Boardman, which will close in 2020.

“You need a wraparound carbon cap or carbon tax to make these decisions more consistently,” said Angus Duncan, chair of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission. The clean electricity plan passed “left open the whole question of whether they’d be replacing Boardman with a baseload gas plant.”

Gov. Kate Brown was a supporter of both the coal to clean bill and the low carbon fuels standard. She said at her swearing-in this week that Oregon would continue to move forward with actions on climate change under her leadership. She wasn’t specific, however, and her office declined to say whether she supported a carbon cap or a carbon tax.

Beyer said Friday he hadn’t spoken in depth with legislative leaders about the bill but planned to be a strong advocate on the topic this session.

“I think it is one of the most pressing problems facing society and Oregon’s economy long-term,” he said. “Probably more important now since it appears the Federal Government won’t be doing much.”

– Ted Sickinger

503-221-8505; @tedsickinger

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Chris Golledge

Chris Golledge8 days ago

Fourier discovered the existence of the greenhouse effect in the 1820s.  The greenhouse effect of CO2 has been modeled, measured, and observed to increase as the CO2 content of the atmosphere increases. It has been modeled with gas spectroscopy since Tyndall in the 1850s, and Arrhenius’ original global warming paper in 1896. The decrease in energy leaving the earth in the band that CO2 effects has been measured with satellites in orbit for at least a few decades, and the greenhouse effect observed to increase over a 10-year time period.
These facts can be verified easily, and I would encourage anyone who doubts them to spend 2 minutes looking them up. For the deniers to be right, 200 years of thermodynamics has to be wrong.


LogicalThinker8 days ago

@Chris Golledge —“the unmitigated disaster of climate change,”

ME–You left out the fact that NO ONE has ever shown CO2 to cause warming in the real atmosphere where it’s effect is masked by water vapor, opposed by negative feedbacks, stabilized by thunderstorms and air circulation..

Chris Golledge

Chris Golledge8 days ago

@LogicalThinker @Chris Golledge We have satellites in orbit measuring the reduction in outbound energy in the wavelengths only affected by CO2. We have measurements from the surface showing an increase in the greenhouse effect as CO2 increases, again, in wavelengths only affected by CO2.

Feel free to look this up. Or, trust 200 years of science over something you read on the internet that made you feel good.


LogicalThinker8 days ago

@Chris Golledge @LogicalThinker ” energy in the wavelengths only affected by CO2.”


You left out the fact that NO ONE has ever shown CO2 to cause warming in the real atmosphere where it’s effect is masked by water vapor, opposed by negative feedbacks, stabilized by thunderstorms and air circulation..


LogicalThinker7 days ago

@Don Steinke @LogicalThinker @Chris Golledge –“Chis has explained that those feedbacks have been accounted for..”

Quit with the Al Gore crap. The IPCC has NOT accounted for negative feedbacks, cloud seeding by cosmic rays, sun cycles,  cloud cover.

Then there is the big one – what caused earlier, warmer, warm periods and why is that cause not the cause of the current warm period?

Chris Golledge

Chris Golledge8 days ago

I’d take a cap & trade over the unmitigated disaster of climate change, but fixed limits imposed over a variable demand tend to result in a lack of incentive to reduce or unpredictable price spikes. If you tax carbon where it comes out of the ground, you apply a monetary incentive directly to the root cause of the problem. Given a predictable incentive, the market will figure out which combination of alternatives work. Rebate the tax to the general populace and you eliminate the regressive aspect from increases in utility costs. Apply a border tariff on goods coming from countries not also taking equivalent steps and you keep the playing field level. Get China and the U.S. working together, and the rest of the world will toe the line.


LogicalThinker8 days ago

@Chris Golledge –“the unmitigated disaster of climate change,”

ME–What climate change? According to the best climate data we have, warming stopped in 1998. Further, 2016 was just 0.02 degree warmer – a warming of  0.2 degree per century.

Chris Golledge

Chris Golledge5 days ago

@LogicalThinker @Chris Golledge Uh, I posted GISS; why are you talking about NOAA? But, if you don’t like one set of data and analysis, how about four. These show not only rising temperatures, but an increase in the rate of increase. What data set do you use?


LogicalThinker8 days ago

Tina, why do you want us to pay more for energy?

Don’t you care about low income people who will freeze in the dark LIKE IS ALREADY HAPPENING IN EUROPE FROM YOUR KIND OF POLICIES?


twelvis8 days ago

This is insanity.  Most of the rest of the country just voted to ignore climate change, and while much of the world just gives lip service to it.  The government can’t even do the simple things like keep the roads of commerce maintained and our police well funded, yet we alone are some how going to control the earth’s temperature.  Insanity is Oregon’s public employee union, progressive governance.


davero9 days ago

The eager little climate warriors in Salem, led by Tina Kotek, have not yet figured out they are alone in the nation.  In two years, when we have a Republican governor and Republican majorities, their day will be done.  In the meanwhile they will continue to do their best to control all aspects of everyone’s life.  They just know better than we do how we should live, work and play.


YourMaster9 days ago

“The state’s largest electric utilities, for instance, backed last year’s “coal to clean bill,” which provides the opportunity for them to make big new investments in renewable energy.  But they do not support more carbon legislation.”

Well, of course, nimrods…

“provides the opportunity” = subsidies.  The companies are not “investing” their own money, but public money, so wtf do they care?  Additionally, they, of course, don’t support more carbon legislation because then their own money is involved.

Why are Democrats and liberals so frigging stupid?  Why do they believe that they, uniquely, possess the knowledge to run everyone else’s lives?  These filthy, disgusting little tyrants…they live off the hard work of others and then have the audacity to demand that those others “invest” in these shenanigans….


YourMaster9 days ago

“”I think it is one of the most pressing problems facing society and Oregon’s economy long-term,” he said.”

One of…sheesh, I wonder what the others are?  Sugary drinks?  Not enough bike lanes?


YourMaster9 days ago

“Oregon’s Global Warming Commission”

LOLs…really?  I thought the tyrants moved on from global warming to climate change???


YourMaster9 days ago

Here’s the newest attempt to coerce people into walking and biking to their coffee shop and microbrewery jobs.

Meanwhile, they ignore just where all the money will come from to purchase all that coffee and beer.


pdxsoftwareguy9 days ago


Well given a record influx of high tech firms and the jobs they bring, we don’t need to worry where “all that money will come from to purchase all that coffee and beer.”

But I understand your concern given your fluctuating employment status.


YourMaster9 days ago

VIRTUE SIGNALING…that’s all this is.  Pretending that the already enacted limits have any effect whatsoever on anything and it makes it’s supporters just feel better about themselves.

These tyrants just don’t know when to stop.  Technocrats who all think they know best how we ought to live.  Instead, they’re filthy little autocrats who, if they lived elsewhere in the world, would either be dictators and worrying about how to feed their children rather than attempting to control the lives of millions of people.

Laurie Dougherty

Laurie Dougherty9 days ago

Exxon’s own research showed decades ago that burning fossil fuels would cause dangerous climate change. Did they turn their huge financial and human resources toward renewable energy development. No. Exxon did make sure that their own facilities would survive rising sea levels and stronger storms. Then they poured millions of dollars into think tanks and media that would spread false information that climate change either isn’t real, or isn’t dangerous, or we can’t stop it. And I guess you fell for it.

Meanwhile Exxon and its ilk are laughing all the way to the bank and who’s paying for their profits? And who’s paying for the consequences of more flooding, more wildfires, more drought as the warming atmosphere sops up more moisture and then dumps it out?

And now if Rex Tillerson gets to be Secretary of State (with his $180 million “retirement” package, paid for by consumers), the fossil fuel industry will increase it’s world domination. They are the tyrants, brainwashers and destroyers.

(There’s more than a little irony in someone using the pseudonym “YourMaster” calling other people tyrants.)


LogicalThinker8 days ago

@Laurie Dougherty —“Exxon’s own research showed decades ago that burning fossil fuels would cause dangerous climate change.”

UTTER CRAP!!!  Why do you repeat lies like that?

Decades ago, like now, there was NO PROOF that CO2 is causing global warming.

PS: The claim is that CO2 causes warming by trapping heat, which results in global warming. Climate change was introduced to cover up the fact that the earth quit warming.


opendoor9 days ago

Lost in space once again.  Air pollution is a stagnant dead issue.  Not the more important of issues now or for the next five year plan to be worked on by our comrades in Salem.


aconcernedportlander9 days ago

Sure wish they would address immediate concerns, like the budget and fiscal responsibility, before they go off tackling issues best handled on a National level.   But that might involve doing some actual work and accepting some responsibility.


samoht19 days ago

Make the big data centers like Google, Facebook ect build their own green energy plants..Its time those energy hogs paid up..They get super cheap rates compared to residential..Residential always picks up a bigger share of new power plants cost while industrial and commercial customers suck up the power while only providing a few jobs..


ImmortanJoe9 days ago

Just make definitive and progressive limits on global warming emissions so that Oregon meets the scientists 2050 goal of 80% reduction in global warming emissions from 1980 levels.

The “cap and trade” and other indirect methods are not effective in any of the many places they have been tried.

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