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Ore. lawmakers look for emissions cap now, develop trade program later

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Ore. lawmakers look for emissions cap now, develop trade program later

Oregon lawmakers behind a bill to create a cap-and-trade program aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions offered an amendment that essentially breaks the existing plan into two parts.

The amendment to House Bill 4001 sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions but gives lawmakers until July 31, 2019, to enact a cap-and-trade program. If they fail to do so, the amendment allows Oregon's Environmental Quality Commission to adopt a program.

State Rep. Ken Helm, the main sponsor of H.B. 4001, told members of the House Rules Committee on Feb. 20 that he and others who worked on the proposal heard a lot of enthusiasm for addressing climate change through a cap-and-trade system. At the same time, they also heard a "clear request for more extensive conversations" during the 2019 legislative session.

Helm said the new plan would let Oregon begin to address climate change while also giving lawmakers more time to work out details of a cap-and-trade program. Oregon lawmakers are in the middle of a 35-day session that started Feb. 5.

Three other Democrats in the House of Representatives joined Helm in speaking in support of the amendment. State Rep. Pam Marsh said that while H.B. 4001 is a "thoughtful, pragmatic bill," the amendment is a "clear statement that the Legislature has heard the pleas from Oregonians who are begging us to take action."

Marsh said the amended bill will determine the course of future climate policy by establishing the emissions trajectory needed to meet targeted reductions. The ultimate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Local utilities Portland General Electric Co. and PacifiCorp earlier in February asked lawmakers to make sure the proposals will not hurt ratepayers, while representatives for business and industry groups told members of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources and House Energy and Environment committees that the plan would cost the state jobs and hurt the economy.

State Rep. Greg Barreto raised some of those same concerns Feb. 20, asking whether an emissions cap would increase the cost of doing business and living in Oregon. Helm said putting a price on carbon dioxide does not appear to have hurt the economies of California, Quebec or Ontario.

Lawmakers and others will get another chance to weigh in on the bill Feb. 22, when the House Rules Committee meets for a public hearing on H.B. 4001, committee chair Jennifer Williamson said.