SALEM — House Democrats are making a last-ditch effort to enact at least half of a cap-and-invest program in Oregon this year.
Acknowledging reluctance among lawmakers to pass a full program this year, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, has proposed setting up only a cap on the amount of carbon emissions that individual companies may release into the atmosphere. The change would come in the form of an amendment to a House bill proposing the cap-and-invest program.
The idea behind the amendment is that the Legislature would, in 2019, develop a program for pricing carbon emissions that exceed that cap and investing the proceeds into projects intended to offset climate change.
If the Legislature failed to complete the program during its regular session in the first half of next year, the amendment authorizes the Oregon Environment Quality Commission to develop the program.
Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, testified Feb. 20 in the House Rules Committee that he hopes the amendment will "propel us toward an agreement on a cap-and-trade bill in 2019."
A hearing on the amendment was scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 22, at the Oregon Capitol.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte has repeatedly opposed passing a cap-and-invest program during the Legislature's "short" session this year. The 35-day session in even years is designed to clean up existing policy and amend budgets, McLane has said.
House Democrats, such as Rep. Pam March of Ashland, who spoke in favor of the amendment Tuesday, said climate change is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, and Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, both proposed legislation in their respective chambers to create a cap-and-invest program modeled after one in California.
The program would effectively charge Oregon industry for emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The goal of the program is to encourage business to embrace technologies and practices that curb the release of greenhouse gases that warm the climate and to invest in projects that help the general population reduce their carbon footprint. The proposal has been in the works for several years but encountered strong opposition from industry when it was proposed in 2016.
As part of the program, Helm and Dembrow would like Oregon to join the Western Climate Initiative, made up of California and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The coalition shares a market where allowances for excess carbon emissions are sold.
The price of exceeding the emissions would be set by that market, under Helm's and Dembrow's proposals.
Helm said the program would take effect in 2021, regardless of whether the program is enacted partially or fully this year.