There is a fierce battle of ideas and political willpower being waged at Oregon’s Capitol. On one side are the Democrats, who claim they have a mandate to implement Cap & Trade in order to meet CO2 emission goals set by the 2007 legislature. By meeting these goals, Democrats maintain Oregon will be doing its part in the battle against climate change. Democrats profess that any higher emission levels are an unacceptable failure.
On the other side are Republicans, who in both House and Senate chambers have left the state, to stop the Cap & Trade bills from moving forward. Republicans believe Cap & Trade will devastate the local economies in the districts they represent — districts that mostly rely on the natural resources economy. It is a classic case of the immovable rock versus the irresistible force, or to use a team sports analogy, the best offense verses the best defense.
All would seem hopeless, if that were the complete truth. As Paul Harvey was famous for saying, “And now the rest of the story.” First, we must go back to the CO2 emissions mandates set back in 2007. The first milestone set by the legislature was that by 2020 Oregon must reduce its green house gasses by 20% of 1990 levels. Did you know no government agency was measuring green house gasses in 1990? This is a critical fact. Therefore the 1990 levels are determined by estimates and assumptions to best-guess the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if we were to assume those 1990 best guesses are close to correct, another, and more important, assumption is in play — that this measurement is to be conducted in absolute terms. Since 1990, Oregon’s population has increased about 35%. If we look at CO2 emissions on a per person basis, instead of an absolute one, then Oregon is already exceeding its 2007 mandates, having reduced green house gasses over 22% from 1990 levels — 2% ahead of schedule, without Cap & Trade. Moreover, Oregon ranks third in the nation for the lowest CO2 emissions, when measured on a per person basis. One serious flaw with the 2007 legislature’s mandate is simply this: It doesn’t say how to measure emissions: on an absolute basis or per Oregonian.
This is not a trivial point. To expect Oregon to attract new industry, create new jobs, and bring new people to our state and then to also expect that we would not measure CO2 emissions on a per person basis seems like the game is rigged. If we are to use absolute measuring standards, one simple way to meet the goal would be to drive those 35% who came to Oregon over the past 30 years back out of the state. Ironically, that is exactly what may indeed happen if Cap & Trade passes the 2020 legislature. However, it may not be new Oregonians who leave, but instead those families in rural communities who have been hard working Oregonians for generations.
Second, Republicans have several ideas that will lower CO2 emissions. What’s more, these ideas are ones that won’t take a wrecking ball to Oregonians’ pocketbooks or livelihoods. Republican ideas would also strengthen rural economies. One such idea is to export lower CO2-emitting forms of energy to places outside of Oregon. Japan just announced they will be constructing 22 new coal power plants. It is estimated these new coal plants will emit roughly the same amount of CO2 that the entire US transportation sector emits each year. What if Oregon had a way to export to Japan a significantly lower CO2-emitting form of energy, so they would not build these coal plants? The answer to that question is yes we do — the Jordan Cove pipeline project. Japan was considering building natural gas power plants and to run them on LNG coming from the port of Coos Bay. This project is a once-in-a-lifetime economic boost for struggling southern Oregon counties. Furthermore, it would provide great family wage jobs and local governments an ongoing revenue stream to meet a wide variety of budgeting challenges, while at the same time lowering global CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, state agencies, cheered on by far left environmental groups, have all but killed the Jordan Cove project. All Oregonians should be outraged. Oregon had an opportunity to be a real leader and lower global CO2 emissions by providing Japan with a much cleaner energy alternative. Instead, because the Jordan Cove pipeline project doesn’t fit neatly into the Democrat driven Cap & Trade model of lowering Oregon’s emissions, bureaucrats have deployed stall and delay tactics making the project prohibitively expensive.
Finally, the longer I have studied the idea of Cap & Trade, the more I am convinced it is less about the environment and more about centralizing power in the hands of Salem bureaucrats. If Cap & Trade legislation passes, all Oregonians will lose — except those few with special connections to the levers of power. Since Cap & Trade was discussed in the 2019 legislative session, Republicans have made this simple request: Let the people vote. Cap & Trade will be a monumental shift to Oregon’s economy, effecting every Oregonian in a significant way. Letting the people have a direct say — once and for all — seems the only way to settle this struggle between the immovable rock and the irresistible force.
E. Werner Reschke is the State Representative for Southern Klamath & Lake Counties. He is an assistant leader for the House Republicans and Vice Chair on the House Revenue Committee.