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Critics say Ore. cap-and-trade bill still problematic

"An offer to break up implementation of a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program in Oregon does not appear to have won over critics of the proposal.

During a Feb. 22 hearing and in written remarks to members of the House Rules Committee, representatives from agriculture, paper and other industries showed little enthusiasm for the idea of setting a cap on emissions but gave lawmakers more time to enact a trading program to go along with it.

The so-called "-12 amendment" to H.B. 4001 would retain a proposed cap on emissions while giving lawmakers a crack at enacting a cap-and-trade program. If they fail to do so, the amendment allows Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission to adopt a program. Commission members serve as the Department of Environmental Quality's policy and rulemaking board.

Critics were not mollified.

The amendment makes already tough greenhouse gas goals even more stringent with no plan for how businesses could comply or pay, Oregon Business & Industry, which represents about 1,600 Oregon businesses, said in written testimony. "The amendment will increase confusion and uncertainty in an already challenging economic climate."

The Oregon Wheat Growers League said the amendment does not resolve concerns about impacts from a cap-and-trade program to commodity businesses such as wheat. The group also objected to the role "unelected regulators" would play should lawmakers either fail to come to or approve an agreement on a cap-and-trade program.

Even with the amendment, the bill continues to pose a threat to the state's pulp and paper industry, the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association's Paul Cosgrove told lawmakers.

Portland General Electric Co. did not file written remarks or testify at the most recent hearing. Spokesman Steven Corson said the company's overall concerns with the program remain the same as stated earlier this month. The company has suggested changes to the bill, including one to make sure ratepayers are not faced with unnecessary rate increases.

PGE is committed to working with lawmakers and stakeholders on addressing those concerns, whether that happens in this or the 2019 session, he said. As for the amendment, Corson said the proposal involves complex policy issues that relate to the statewide economy. PGE does not think those can be passed off to Department of Environmental Quality to resolve, he said.

A PacifiCorp representative was not immediately available for comment Feb. 23.

Like the earlier hearing on the bill, groups also spoke in favor of the proposal. Environmental advocacy groups Climate Solutions, Oregon Environmental Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council in joint written testimony called on lawmakers to support the bill as is, saying it "reflects a fully-vetted policy that is tailored to uniquely benefit Oregon and is ready to pass in 2018."

The Union of Concerned Scientists is also on board, calling H.B. 4001 a "thoughtfully constructed bill" that would provide more assurance that Oregon would meet emissions reduction targets and allow for investments that will make renewables less expensive and expand clean energy job training.