Big problems require big moves. We have no doubt that legislative action to help curb Oregon's greenhouse gas emissions is the right thing to do—and that the time is now to take action. But as the Oregon Legislative Assembly slides into its third week in a short session that lasts just five weeks, we have to also root goals in reality.
This week, Democrats in the Oregon Legislature made moves to slow down the trajectory of SB 1530, the Senate version of a cap-and-invest plan that aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions by increasing fuel taxes (first in the Portland metro area; later in other parts of the state) and forcing big polluters to obtain credits for the amount of greenhouse gas they emit. The sale of credits would then be used to invest in a "decarbonized" transportation system.
Democrats made the move after Republicans in the Legislature complained that they hadn't had enough time to fully review the bill nor get enough public testimony to gauge public support. While that may be seen as yet another move to stymie legislation that Democrats say can't wait, it could also be seen as a reasonable ask. Legislation this big needs broad public support, and Oregonians deserve to fully understand the way it's going to work before legislators move forward.
One could argue that the process has been going on for far too long, given that another iteration of cap and invest was on the table during last year's regular legislative session. But that was a different iteration; and to Democrats' credit, they've done much to listen to the concerns of Republicans concerned about how the original bill would have affected rural constituents. That's the type of back-and-forth that should be allowed in this process. In a state where the "urban-rural divide" conversation is raging, Democrats need to deliver a package that, while might not completely please both sides, will at least assuage some of each side's biggest concerns. That is good governance—and it takes more time than the short session may allow.
We support strong moves to curb the effects of climate change in our state. Even if our overall global impact is a drop in the bucket, taking the time to craft a plan that works to slow our own state's impact on the environment could encourage other states and nations to do the same. Many nations smaller than the state of Oregon have done so, knowing their global impact was small, but also understanding that many drops do fill a bucket.
While moving our transportation needs to electric-powered vehicles—one ideal result of the cap-and-invest plan—could come with its own share of concerns (recall the California fires last year, reportedly started by PG&E electrical lines), it may very well usher in an era when we no longer see massive negative impacts from the burning and transport of fuel. This week, crews continue to repair Highway 22 west of Sisters, after a double tanker fuel truck crashed and spilled about 7,800 gallons of fuel into and adjacent to the North Santiam River. Ten Oregon cities get their drinking water from that river.
Ten years from now, with tighter greenhouse gas emissions caps in place and fleets far less dependent on fossil fuels, we'd like to think that crashes like this won't happen. We'd like to believe that by then, the vast majority of people will have curbed their dependence on a finite resource to get us around.
A lot is riding on the Oregon Legislative Assembly's moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But even with the stakes, cramming the issue into a short session with just two and a half weeks left may not be the right move.