In challenge to Trump, Oregon votes to cap climate emissions

by Sebastien Malo | @SebastienMalo | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 18 June 2019 14:13 GMT

SunPower Corporation equipment technicians install solar panel manufacturing technology at a plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

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The pioneering cap-and-trade scheme would kick off in 2021 - but still needs backing by the state senate

By Sebastien Malo

NEW YORK, June 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Lawmakers in Oregon have voted to price climate-changing emissions from large polluters across the state's economy, in the latest move by a local government to fight global warming despite reluctance from the White House.

The Oregon "cap-and-trade" system would reward those who slash their planet-warming emissions with credits they can sell to others who produce higher emissions and exceed government-mandated limits.

"Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally" in adopting more such systems, said Governor Kate Brown in a statement prior to the vote late Monday in the Oregon House of Representatives.

The bill still must be passed by the state senate, but Brown has said she would sign it into law if it reaches her desk.

Oregon would be the second U.S. state to put in place such an economy-wide trading system, following California in 2013, said Brad Reed, a spokesman for Renew Oregon, a green energy advocacy group that campaigned for the bill.

Oregon's climate-changing emissions in 2017 accounted for well under 1 percent of the total U.S. emissions, according to estimates by the Oregon Global Warming Commission and the U.S. Environnmental Protection Agency.

But the passage of the bill could help advance similar, or even more ambitious, policies in other states, said Jeff Mauk, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.

"State lawmakers feel a heightened urgency to act in the Trump era," Mauk said.

The Oregon bill is just the latest in a range of efforts by U.S. states and cities to develop environmental policies that advance action on climate change.

President Donald Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of a 2015 global accord to fight climate change and has backed continuing planet-warming extraction and use of fossil fuels.

But as part of the "We Are Still In" coalition, more than 3,500 mayors, governors and business leaders have promised they will not retreat from the international deal.

Oregon's cap-and-trade scheme would kick off in 2021 and aim to help the state cut its emissions by at least 45% below 1990 levels by 2035, the bill said.

It would target large emitters in sectors ranging from industrial operations to transportation and electricity.

The money Oregon would raise with its system would largely be allocated to benefit communities most impacted by the effects of global warming, the bill said.

An estimated $535 million would be raised over the course of the program's first year, according to the state Carbon Policy Office.

While California has the only similar broad trading system in the country, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, another cap-and-trade system, targets electric sector emissions in nine northeastern and mid-Atlantic states from Maine to Maryland.

Economists view market-based mechanisms as the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions, said Matthew Zaragoza-Watkins, an assistant professor of economics at Vanderbilt University.

Still, nearly two dozen green groups opposed the bill. In a public letter, they called for fossil fuels to be phased out, saying trading could promote their continued use, Zaragoza-Watkins said.

According to the World Bank, 46 countries and 24 states, cities or other jurisdictions have put a price on carbon.

(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers climate change, humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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