Editorial: Move to charge industries for emissions may miss the point

Some Oregon state legislators plan to kick off their short session next month by introducing a “cap and invest” bill that would charge Oregon companies for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and would use the revenue to invest in projects purportedly aimed at slowing climate change.

The proposal will be considered during the legislature’s policy-making session Feb. 5 to March 11. Democratic leaders have identified the legislation as a top priority.

The bill, modeled after a program in California, would set a cap of less than 25,000 tons of CO2 per year for each company in the state, beginning in 2021. An estimated 100 companies in Oregon, who  emit more than that amount, would be required to buy market-priced allowances for excess greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels, electric and gas utilities and large industrial firms.

The allowances would be sold at a North American auction and would generate revenue to be invested in green-energy and environmentally friendly agriculture projects. Estimates have calculated the revenue at about $700 million per year, some of which would be invested in communities disproportionately impacted by global warming, including rural areas, in things like rebates for electric vehicles, solar panels on homes, safety improvements on bicycle lanes or worker training.

Cap limits and available allowances would be reduced over time to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, which would either increase the revenue stream or force industry to find ways to cut emissions.

While this concept is already in play in places like California and Canada, we wonder about the timing and focus of this proposal.

Why this rush? Proponents of the program contend that a decade of attempts to deal with greenhouse gasses in the state have come to nought. But by all accounts, this program is going to be complicated. It includes complex requirements for the use of proceeds from the allowance auction and opponents say it can’t possibly be vetted in a 35-day session.

This isn’t the first time this idea has gotten play in the legislature. Several carbon-pricing bills were introduced last year and Gov. Kate Brown has been vocal in her desire to get this done.

It’s not like legislators shouldn’t be able to find anything else to do.

There’s that $74 million the Oregon Health Authority wrongly paid out in federal Medicaid money. How did that happen and what can be done to prevent a replay?

How about those wildfires last year that cost us a reported $340 million-plus before the rains came, consuming overgrown forests?

And didn’t we just learn that Oregon ranks third – from the bottom – out of the 50 states in its high school graduation rate? And what about those continued tuition increases at state universities – particularly the University of Oregon, which continually builds splendid new facilities while jacking up the costs for kids to attend?

Oil train safety?

There’s that budget problem they really didn’t solve last year and which will loom again in 2019 – though this could be an effort to chip into that.

So, who would be on the hook for these allowances? “Electricity providers, industrial facilities and fossil fuel suppliers,” according to a report prepared for legislators by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Let’s see, what local companies might fall into these categories? Wood products firms? Entek?

Given what happened the last time the state visited our parts – when the DEQ and a slew of other agencies tried to force Entek to launch an effort to warn neighbors about unsubstantiated threats of “toxics” in its emissions last spring, we’re not too confident that this bill’s backers’ interest is wholly the well-being of our community.

Gov. Brown has clearly made it a priority to resist Trump Administration policies at seemingly every turn, and climate change has been one of those issues.

Then, considering the state’s budget woes and the legislature’s attempts to ramrod through what amount to sales taxes in various guises – Measure 97, which failed two years ago and now Measure 101 on the ballot we’re filling out now, this looks an awful lot like another attempt to chisel money out of the business community.

We recognize the financial situation the current legislature will need to deal with next year, but we suggest they pull their collective heads out of the urban sand and put them to work on some common-sense solutions that will enable Ore- gonians to use what they’ve got – natural resources and the ability to work hard – to solve some of these problems.