It’s no secret that my Democratic colleagues in the state Senate want to pass a cap-and-trade bill this year (SB 1530). They tried last year with HB 2020, but were unsuccessful. They’ve been working since then to try and come up with a better version of the proposal. We got the first real look at their new version this past week, and while there are some improvements, I’m sorry to say it’s closer to putting lipstick on a pig — no disrespect to pigs — than anything that deserves the legislature’s support.
One of the biggest issues with last year’s cap-and-trade proposal was the significant increase in gas prices that would come as a result of the program. Estimates provided by the nonpartisan Legislative Revenue Office showed the program would raise prices by 22 cents per gallon in the first year of the program alone. For rural communities like ours, such a significant increase would have had a negative impact. Rural residents travel significantly more miles per year than urban residents, and our farmers and ranchers need fuel to run their operations. There’s no question these cost increases would have been devastating for many in our area.
Supporters of cap and trade, to their credit, have attempted to address this concern in the latest draft of the bill, but I’m afraid they’ve come up short. Their solution amounts to an empty exemption for rural Oregon. It’s more likely to create a bureaucratic headache for fuel companies, and it’s not clear the fuels scheme in the cap-and-trade bill would even work in the first place. We can’t afford to roll the dice with this. The stakes are just too high.
I’m also worried about the impact cap and trade would have on propane prices. Many families in our community rely on propane to heat their homes and run their farms.
The latest version of cap-and-trade bill would have increased propane rates by a minimum of $0.16 per gallon in year one. While the bill includes some protections for natural gas and electricity customers, it includes no protections for propane customers. And there’s no question families in our community will see their utility bills increase steadily over time. Can you imagine forcing our friends and neighbors, particularly those who are struggling to make ends meet, to pay higher heating bills in the middle of winter? It’s unconscionable.
The latest bill also made some changes to some key governance administration provisions of the program. More specifically, the new proposal would transfer authority over the program to unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Environmental Quality. These unelected representatives would be given tremendous regulatory authority over huge sectors of our economy with almost no accountability for their decisions. What’s worse, the cap-and-trade program would raise hundreds of millions of dollars on the backs of businesses and workers with no detailed plan for how those dollars would be managed. As a member of the Legislature’s Ways & Means Budget Committee, this is troubling to me. I believe we have a responsibility to Oregonians to manage taxpayer dollars with extreme discretion. This latest proposal clearly fails in that regard.
Finally, short sessions like the one beginning in February were explicitly created so lawmakers could make minor budget fixes and policy tweaks to laws passed in previous years. That’s it. There is not enough time in a short session for lawmakers to adequately review complex legislation or ensure there are no critical mistakes. There is also no way someone from Pendleton can make it all the way to Salem on one hour’s notice to testify on the bill. That’s just plain wrong.
While growing up, my family owned one of the largest hog ranches in the country. I raised and showed pigs in 4-H and FFA. I like pigs, and I am uncomfortable using a pig to illustrate the cap-and-trade bill, because it insults the pig. You can train, scrub, and spruce up a pig for the show ring. You can shave the tail, trim the ears and clean the hooves. But that beautifully clean pig is still a pig, and by nature it will wallow every chance it gets. You can’t change the nature of the pig. And you can’t change the nature of this piece of legislation.
SB 1530 is flawed, and it is incredibly expensive for Oregonians. The changes from HB 2020 now in SB 1530 really is putting lipstick on a pig. SB 1530 is the same animal. This bill does not have my support, and I will defend Oregonians from it through any means necessary.
Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, represents Senate District 29. He grew up on a farm north of Athena. He and his wife Margaret chose to return to Eastern Oregon to raise their six children in rural Umatilla County. His Senate district, the size of the state of Maryland, is the leading agricultural producing Senate district in Oregon.