On Monday, lawmakers released their much anticipated amendment to the cap and trade bill. The amendment is supposedly the result of hours of public testimony lawmakers received during hearings held in the Capitol and in communities across the state. Unfortunately, the amendment offers little more than lip service to the thousands of Oregonians who testified and submitted comments on the bill.
Chief among Oregonians’ concerns has been the increased cost of fuel under a cap and trade. DEQ has estimated the cost of the program at 16 cents per gallon in just the first year, with additional increases every year after. That increase, combined with the recent 10 cent gas tax increase and the clean fuels tax already paid by consumers, would leave Oregonians paying the third highest gas prices in the entire country. Lawmakers’ only attempt to address this problem came in the form of offering Oregonians a capped number of token rebates to a small population of consumers. Lawmakers failed to address the impact increased fuel prices would have on trucking and shipping operations in the state and even left open the possibility of applying the program to aviation and watercraft fuels in the future.
Lawmakers also introduced a new concept around emissions technology in an apparent attempt to address concerns from manufacturers over the disproportionate impact on living wage jobs across the state. Unfortunately, the new language does little to improve the bill from its original form. Some would argue it made it even worse. The new language exposes manufacturers and their employees to increased uncertainty and subjects them to a complicated and unproven regulatory structure managed by yet another new government office. If this new provision is adopted, it will do little to stem the tide of potential job losses across the state.
The amendment also fails to protect Oregonians and businesses from drastic natural gas rate increases. NW Natural has previously estimated residential rate increases as high as 53%, with industrial customers seeing increases of more than 100%. Lawmakers said Monday they were still working on ways to provide rate relief while offering little in the way of details. With hundreds of thousands of Oregonians relying on natural gas to heat their homes and businesses across the state utilizing natural gas in their manufacturing processes, this area of the bill needs significant work if working families and employers are to be protected in the final version of the legislation.
Much like the original version of the bill, the language of lawmakers’ amendment continues to put family budgets at risk, threatens the viability of key industries and puts too much power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats. Here’s to hoping alternative amendments get fair and full consideration in the weeks ahead.