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Ore. lawmakers to try again to pass carbon cap-and-trade bill

Although Republican state senators staged a walk-out in June 2019 to keep a similar bill from passing, Oregon lawmakers are back with new draft legislation that would require the power, natural gas and other industries to curtail greenhouse gas emissions through carbon cap-and-trade regulations.

Legislative Concept 19, or LC 19, was presented during a Jan. 13 meeting of the Senate Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resources ahead of the 35-day legislative session that begins Feb. 3.

The proposed draft legislation would apply to investor-owned utilities such as Portland General Electric Co. and Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary PacifiCorp, as well as publicly owned utilities and natural gas companies such as Avista Corp. subsidiary Avista Utilities Inc. and Northwest Natural Holding Co. subsidiary Northwest Natural Gas Co.

LC 19 would establish the Oregon Greenhouse Gas Initiative and modify statewide greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals to at least 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

It also would establish within the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality an Office of Greenhouse Gas Regulation to annually allocate carbon allowances from a state allowance budget for distribution at no cost to covered entities, including electric and gas companies. The allowances would count toward fulfilling each covered entity's compliance obligation, but the number of allowances would be reduced annually, and each covered entity would have to either reduce emissions or purchase enough allowances at a state auction to meet the state's requirements.

The concept is similar to one embodied in House Bill 2020, which the Democratic majority in the House passed in June 2019 but which Republican senators blocked by walking out during the closing days of the session before the bill came up for a vote. Gov. Kate Brown afterward vowed to continue her efforts to pass a "cap and invest" program to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.

In October 2019, a coalition of organizations, including the Oregon Environmental Council and Renew Oregon, filed two similar statewide ballot measures — Initiatives 48 and 49 — that each would require utilities to obtain all their electricity from clean energy resources by 2045. They also filed Initiative 50, which would mandate that the state lower greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 100% below 1990 levels by 2050.

However, Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno rejected the three initiatives, maintaining that they did not comply with state constitutional requirements that a voter initiative must deal with a single subject and that they were overly broad.

The groups appealed to the state Supreme Court concerning the greenhouse gas initiative, but the court has not yet issued an opinion in that case.