I’m excited to be in Florence this week for the annual Oregon Coastal Caucus Economic Summit. As a first-time attendee, I’m looking forward to hearing from many of my colleagues, local leaders from our coastal communities, and policy experts on a range of important issues. One discussion I’ll be paying particular attention to is the panel on the future of cap-and-trade legislation in Oregon.
I served on the committee that considered cap-and-trade legislation earlier this year. While the bill ultimately failed to pass amid opposition from both sides of the aisle, several lawmakers and Gov. Kate Brown have already pledged to renew their push for the program in the 2020 legislative session. The early word is that next year’s bill will look a lot like the version we rejected earlier this year. As a lawmaker representing a district far outside Portland in the mid-Willamette Valley, I’m very concerned about this. I think coastal residents should be as well.
First and foremost, the cap-and-trade bill considered this year would have increased gas prices by 22 cents per gallon in the first year of the program. These costs would disproportionately impact rural residents, as they typically have to drive further to get from Point A to Point B. Additionally, the economies of our rural communities are primarily driven by natural resources industries like agriculture and forestry. These industries rely on a significant amount of fuel to run their equipment and to get products to market. There’s no question that such extreme price increases would put a significant strain on these businesses, with few options for alleviating the pressure.
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Rural residents would be hit a second time by increased utility rates. Natural gas providers have predicted double-digit rate increases in the first years of a cap-and-trade program — and propane providers, which many rural residents rely on as their main fuel source — have predicted similar increases. These cost increases could be devastating for families living on the margin. Can you imagine forcing a senior on a fixed income or single mother to choose between turning on their furnace to stay warm during frigid winter months or putting food on the table? The costs associated with cap and trade are very real and must be addressed.
Finally, it’s been said by some of my colleagues from Portland that rural residents simply don’t understand how much they stand to benefit from cap and trade. To that I would respond: perhaps Portland lawmakers don’t understand that rural residents don’t need or want them dictating what is good or bad for their communities. The idea that politicians would place a new, hidden tax on consumers and local businesses and then dole those dollars out to pet projects doesn’t sit well with most rural Oregonians, regardless of the number of government spending projects cap and trade would supposedly fund.
As the eyes of Oregon’s political world turn to the coast this week, I hope those of us in attendance will walk away with a renewed understanding of just how much is at stake when it comes to cap and trade. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rural resident living along the coast, the far reaches of Eastern Oregon, or the Willamette Valley, we share many of the same concerns. Rural Oregon can’t afford cap and trade.