Kitzhaber And Inslee Face Legislative Roadblocks On Climate Agreement

Nov 4, 2013

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Washington Governor Jay Inslee set ambitious goals when they signed a regional climate change agreement last week, Monday, 10/28 with the leaders of California and British Columbia. But the governors alone can't reach those goals without their state legislatures.

California already has a cap on carbon emissions. British Columbia charges a tax on carbon pollution. Kitzhaber and Inslee agreed to join California and British Columbia in accounting for the costs of carbon pollution in their states.

Kitzhaber: "We intend to look at how best to consider and account for the cost of carbon and our reliance on unsustainable fossil fuel."

Kitzhaber agreed that Oregon will build on existing programs to set a price on carbon. Inslee agreed that Washington will put a binding limit on carbon emissions. So, what happens now? According to Kitzhaber's energy policy adviser Margi Hoffmann, there's really one existing program the governor wants to build on to set a price on carbon in Oregon.

Hoffman: "I think the focus in the short term is definitely the low-carbon fuel standard. And getting that up and running."

The low-carbon fuel standard would set a limit on the carbon emissions coming from fuel burned by cars and trucks. It was ordered by the 2009 legislature, but it’s still in its first phase. The program is scheduled to sunset, or expire, in 2015, so it won’t get to the point of limiting carbon emissions unless the Legislature decides to keep it in place.

Hoffman: "So that's why we're working with the legislature to try to lift the sunset."

But here's the rub. Lawmakers already tried to pass a bill to lift the sunset earlier this year. And it failed. In Washington, Inslee would also need a vote from state lawmakers to put a limit on the total amount of carbon pollution coming from power plants and manufacturers. And the Legislature hasn't gotten to the point of voting on the idea. State lawmakers agreed to study a variety of strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But they're just starting to review their options. Republican Senator Doug Ericksen sits on a legislative work group charged with recommending new climate policies.  He says he's concerned that Inslee spoke too soon in committing to a cap on carbon.

Ericksen: "It would be premature to say we're going to advance one program over another or advance any of these programs right now until we have the results done."

Greg Small is the director of the environmental advocacy group Climate Solutions. He hopes that governors Kitzhaber and Inslee can live up to their agreement to limit and price carbon, but it won't be easy.

Small: "The big challenge is whether some of these efforts which do need to go through the legislature can actually pass through the legislature, and we know that right now the answer is no."

Small says he's looking forward to the 2014 elections to see how a new mix of lawmakers might change the outlook for new climate policies.

Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting