By Vanessa Holguin
Climate change is happening. Whether CO2 emissions are the principle culprit, and at what point they will trigger a cataclysmic state is still up for debate though. Different groups around the world have embraced the principle of precaution when dealing with this challenge. They argue that humans should start reducing CO2 emissions as fast as humanly possible. Unlike some of my fellow Cascadians, I am inclined to applaud leaders who adopt the “better safe, than sorry” approach. What I do have a big problem with; however, is the kind of leadership that expects nothing less than religious faith from the public. This is the type of leadership espoused by the Governor’s Office through its participation in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a regional climate change governmental apparatus. On June 19, I attended a WCI stakeholder meeting hosted by the Governor’s Office and the Department of Environment Quality. Upon learning about the WCI’s plan to implement a cap-and-trade on carbon dioxide as part of its “market-based” approach, I left the meeting with plenty of concerns.
Having listened to John Charles testify before the Oregon House of Representatives on proposed global warming legislation and having conducted my own personal research, I know that almost none of the proposed new energy policies will come without serious consequences for many of us, especially the most vulnerable members of society. Policy analysts have found the cap and trade policy in particular to carry much more disadvantages over its rival, the carbon tax. As part of his testimony, John Charles included studies which point to an alarming increase in gas prices (56% higher) and unemployment (16,000 fewer jobs by 2020) as a result of implementing the cap-and-trade policy. The Carbon Tax Center, founded by two economists, also makes a strong case for the superiority of the carbon tax policy: “While cap-and-trade creates opportunities for cheating, leads to unpredictable fluctuations in energy prices and does nothing to offset high power costs for consumers, carbon taxes can be structured to sidestep all those problems while providing a more reliable market incentive to produce clean-energy technology.” In its special report edition on “The Future of Energy,” even the Economist openly advocated a carbon tax over a cap-and-trade policy. Naturally, I found it strange that with so many different interest groups in agreement, the WCI would choose to adopt the least popular energy policy, and would do so without justifying its decision to the thousands of Oregonians who will literally pay for these changes.
Also, I wondered about the legality of this regional initiative. The WCI website states that: “This regional initiative will ultimately be implemented through laws, regulations, and policies at the state and regional level.” Does this mean the Oregon Legislature would have to adopt WCI policies by default? If so, this would seriously undermine Oregon’s ability to develop policies which address its unique energy problems. Either way, as a tax-paying Oregonian I believe that I am entitled to know how this process works.
I forwarded these questions to David Van’t Hof, the sustainability and renewable energy policy advisor for Governor Kulongoski, and incidentally a Trinity College alum like myself. But not even our common undergraduate heritage managed to sway Mr. Van’t Hof or any of his associates to have the courtesy to address my inquiries. The thought that an average Oregon resident cannot gain access to this most basic information is eerily discomforting to say the least. More disturbing is the element of secrecy surrounding this whole process. When a policy is truly strong enough to stand on its own, there is no need to fear potential objections to it. And when the goal is to come up with the most sustainable and fair policy, than politicians will not shy away from listening to the public’s misgivings, instead they will encourage an open dialogue. The neglect I have suffered on behalf of the Governor’s Office stands in stark contrast to the rapid and informative response that I received from the head of the Carbon Tax Center. Likewise, The Carbon Tax Center website, with its comprehensive facts and question section and powerful counter arguments, is a welcome change from the WCI’s restricted website.
While I am all for the precautionary principle, this in no way signifies that I am prepared to support it unconditionally. As a rational and caring human being, it would be irresponsible of me to trust the governor to pursue the precautionary principle without first fully assessing and understanding the costs and benefits of doing so.
Vanessa Holguin is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market research center.