Findley urges more public participation in controversial carbon plan

Lynn Findley, who represents Malheur County in the Oregon House, chats with local residents last summer in Vale. Findley said he believes more public input is needed before lawmakers decide on a carbon emission standard. (The Enterprise/File).

VALE – State Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said Democratic legislators need to seek more public input on a proposal to slash Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“They’ve not held one public hearing on this. It is a huge process problem,” said Findley last week.

House Bill 2020 would place a cap on Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions. Critics charge the proposal would damage the state economy while supporters assert it would help the environment and curb climate change.

The plan has the support of influential Democratic lawmakers such as House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. Gov. Kate Brown also supports the plan.

At once simple and complex, the proposal creates a new emission standard for the state. The emission standard applies to companies that discharge more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents each year.

Carbon dioxide equivalents are part of a complicated scientific calculation that essentially measures how much greenhouse gas is entering the atmosphere. The goal is to slash the state’s greenhouse gas emission to 1990 levels by 2021.

Companies could exceed the limit through buying special certificates called allowances at a state-sponsored auction. Firms can trade those certificates on a specialized carbon market similar to ones already in place in California and Canada. Oregon’s market would be tied to the California and Canadian carbon markets.

Money from the auction would be ploughed into programs to help the state move away from carbon-based industries.

The plan would potentially impact about 100 firms across the state including several in Malheur County and may have a residual effect on local farmers and ranchers. Findley said the proposal would influence everyone in Oregon.

 “The price of fuel will go up. Natural gas will go up. Every sector of the economy will go up slightly. It is very impactful,” said Findley.

Findley doesn’t agree with the cap and trade legislation and said he believes Oregonians should have the ability to give their input on the issue in the same way they did with the 2017 transportation bill. In the run-up to the transportation bill debate, lawmakers spent a year crisscrossing the state holding public meetings.

“Over the course of that year they went to Ontario and every place else and sought input on the development of that package,” said Findley.

Findley said the cap and trade bill dwarfs an issue like the $5.3 billion transportation package in terms of impact.

While lawmakers continue to debate the legislation, locally its influence is not in doubt said Brad Holland of Campo & Poole Distributing in Ontario. Fuel prices, he said, would climb.

 “As the legislation is written right now we would be penalized for every gallon we brought into Oregon and that is at least 50 percent of our volume,” said Holland.

Just like a major oil company, if a small firm like Campo & Poole Distributing exceeds the carbon limit in its sale of fuel it would have to buy allowances at the state auction market.

That, in turn, means Campo & Poole Distributing would pass its extra costs onto consumers.

“The threshold of 25,000 metric tons, that equates to about 500,000 gallons a year of fuel and that isn’t very much of our business. Our total volume is 70 million gallons a year,” said Holland.

 “We don’t run on big margins. The big oil companies have margin to work with. We don’t. We don’t get rich on any one customer,” said Holland.

He said as a result, the price of gas could climb up to 16 cents by gallon across the region.

That would create a domino effect and hit farmers and ranchers hard, said Jenny Dresler of the Oregon Farm Bureau.

Dresler said the cap and trade proposal doesn’t “consider the cost increase that farmers and ranchers will face.”

Dresler said if fuel prices climbed by 15 or 16 cents, a farm family that buys 25,000 to 35,000 gallons of fuel each year would face a $3,700 boost in expenses.

Farmers, she said, are essentially “being asked to absorb those increases.”

Findley said eastern Oregon is especially susceptible to high gas prices because “we are spread out so much and we rely heavily on transportation methods for everything.”

Holland said that Campo and Poole Distributing is working with Findley and Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, to oppose the legislation. Bentz is the co-vice chairman of the Joint Carbon Reduction committee, the legislative group working on the cap and trade proposal.

“I think the intent, just to be fair, is good. We want a cleaner environment. But this legislation appears to be focused more on the west side of the state and not on the realities of eastern Oregon,” said Holland.

Holland said the cap and trade bill could force companies in Oregon – including Campo & Poole Distributing – to move out of the state to avoid the restrictions on the bill.

“One drastic move would be to relocate our bulk plants to Idaho and have our bigger customers purchase their fuel directly from our bulk plants,” said Holland. 

Findley said the aim of the bill to reduce carbon emissions isn’t going to make much difference globally.

“Oregon’s total carbon footprint is miniscule,” said Findley. “Do we have climate change? Absolutely. But we’ve had climate change forever.”