The Case for a Carbon Price in Oregon

Climate Access and Climate Desk Live in partnership with Bloomberg BNA hosted an energy solutions panel in Vancouver on March 27th to highlight the success of the first five years of a carbon tax in British Columbia.

One of the organizations tuned in intently to the livestream of the event for advice and lessons learned was Oregon Climate, a group campaigning for the implementation of a statewide carbon fee and dividend in Oregon.

Climate Access’ Amy Huva spoke with Oregon Climate’s Director, Camila Thorndike, to find out the plan for Oregon to become a leader in carbon pricing.

A young and increasingly influential organization with an average age of 29, Oregon Climate is a voter-led campaign run by volunteers to pass a state carbon fee and dividend in 2015. The group believes Oregon can become the prototype for effective national climate legislation.

The organization was launched from an art project in May 2013 when hundreds of Oregonians gathered in Salem to meet with legislators about a carbon fee and dividend. On the steps of the legislature, they created a 120ft salmon made up of panels that 1,500 Southern Oregonians had decorated with concerns about climate change. Using the universal appeal of art, Oregon Climate is working to broaden the climate movement and not just preach to the converted.

Specifically, Oregon Climate is campaigning for a ‘fee and dividend’ revenue-neutral carbon tax. A steadily increasing fee on carbon will disincentivize investment in fossil fuels and create the essential conditions for a sustainable economy. Politically, Oregon Climate saw a carbon fee and dividend as the ‘least corruptible’ method of pricing carbon, and one with bipartisan appeal.

Inspired by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, last year Oregon Climate trained 100 organizers to lobby 40 legislators for effective state climate legislation. Impressively, in their initial four months they organized 1,600 Oregonians with a budget of less $1,000.

Oregon Climate wants Oregon to be a model for eventual national carbon pricing legislation. As a non-fossil fuel producing state, political resistance to carbon legislation in Oregon is lower, while public support for carbon pricing is higher than other states in the U.S. As a member state of the Pacific Climate Collaborative (PCC) along with Alaska, British Columbia, California and Washington, Oregon would not be ‘going it alone’ by introducing climate legislation.

A statewide price on carbon can ensure that, unlike piecemeal regulations, fossil fuels aren’t simply exported to a jurisdiction that has no carbon pollution restrictions. Thorndike stated that climate change is not a crisis that can be addressed by voluntary individual consumer changes, and therefore ‘we need to focus on governmental action that ensures fossil fuels remain underground.’

The framing of a pollution fee in tax-abhorrent America allows for the idea to be politically palatable across the aisle and also means that healthy energy options will be more widely available and affordable for Oregonians. Thorndike pointed out that returning the revenues of the fee to households is important so that people have a positive frame in which to connect the dots between rising fossil fuel prices and the true cost of carbon pollution to our health and our environment.

Oregon Climate is looking at doing more projects in the next few months to mobilize voters in advance of the 2014-15 legislative season. They will be hosting policy and discussion panels in Portland and across the state with partner organizations, to train more people and gather momentum for 2015, when Oregon has the opportunity to become a climate leader. 

 

image via Oregon Climate