Last Wednesday, roughly 300 men and women from rural Oregon missed a day’s work to travel to the Oregon Capitol to make their voices heard. Loggers, truck drivers and their families showed up to peacefully protest pending cap and trade legislation. Since then, many have returned to Salem each day to continue the protest. These men and women are our friends, neighbors and colleagues. They are critical to our work– ensuring products get from the forest, to the mill, to the consumer–and they are concerned and, quite frankly, insulted by this bill.
Most concern about the cap and trade legislation centers around the resulting increase in fuel prices and the overall cost of doing business in Oregon – a situation many fear will drive manufacturers and supporting businesses to relocate to other states or shutter entirely. Supporters claim this bill targets the 100 largest polluters in Oregon, but the subsequent increase in energy costs will be passed down to the rural family-owned small businesses that were present at the Capitol last week. These businesses are greatly affected by volatile global markets and already operate within tight profit margins.
Supporters of the bill claim a cap and trade program in Oregon is needed to reduce state-wide emissions. However, the focus on Oregon emissions is misplaced. If passed, part of the achieved emissions reductions in Oregon will likely be the result of businesses moving to other states, which neither reduces global emissions nor helps Oregon’s economy. Proponents also claim cap and trade is needed to protect people from the impacts of climate change. In practice, this bill is likely to do the opposite by negatively affecting those most vulnerable to climate change in Oregon—people who live in places where drought, flooding, and wildfire affect not only infrastructure and vacation plans but life, livelihoods, and family legacies—making it prohibitively expensive for them to grow and transport their products to market.
For these reasons alone, this bill is difficult to swallow. Adding insult to injury, even proponents of the cap and trade program admit it will do little to actually alleviate global climate change. As a state, Oregon is only responsible for 0.12% of global emissions. Oregon Climate Change Research Institute Director, Philip Mote has acknowledged that this bill would have an “imperceptible” impact on global climate change. Regardless, supporters hope the bill will create new jobs in renewable energy sectors. Perhaps the money this bill raises will create some opportunities–the question is where? Will turbine and solar panel manufacturers relocate to Knappa, Oregon to replace the forest sector jobs that are lost? To Coos Bay? To Vernonia? While increases in the renewable energy sector would no doubt be positive for the state overall, those increases should not come at the expense of our existing renewable industries – forestry, wood products manufacturing, food production, and fishing.
Despite its limitations, supporters still think implementing a cap and trade program similar to the one in California is needed to “send a message”. Well, message received, and the social and economic chasm between Oregon’s rural and urban communities grows larger. To the super majority in Salem I say, just because you can pass a piece of legislation doesn’t mean that you should. This bill, while undoubtedly well-intentioned, is not a good fit for Oregon.
So what should be done instead? Climate change is a global problem that requires large-scale action—larger than Oregon is capable of influencing on its own—but we could be a leader in showing other states how to bridge divides and bring people together to find practicable and sustainable solutions. We should craft strategies that recognize the challenges rural residents are facing and take into account the complicated and unique realities of producing basic needs—food and shelter—in this state. Start these discussions in Klamath Falls, La Grande, and Warrenton not Salem and Portland. Learn about the needs and existing vulnerabilities of rural businesses. Get buy-in from the people who will be most affected. Rural communities and the people who grow our food, produce our renewable wood products, and keep our forests forested decade after decade deserve respect and a voice in this process. They don’t deserve to have major legislation crammed down their throats.