Oregon is Plenty Big Enough to Make Polluters Pay

Evan Manvel

"Only an economy-wide signal – a carbon [pollution] cap or carbon [pollution] tax – will truly change the rules of the game in meaningful ways."

Monday, Portland State University's Northwest Economic Research Center delivered their report on carbon pricing for Oregon. As reported in The Oregonian:

Taxing greenhouse gas emitters in Oregon could significantly reduce air pollution, without harming Oregon’s economy. The $60 per ton rate would put Oregon in a position to meet the Legislature’s goal of reducing emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels within the next five years. Without a tax, statewide emissions are expected to rise nearly 15 percent above 1990 levels by 2020.

To recap: pricing carbon pollution (and other greenhouse gases) is by far the most effective and efficient way to fight global warming. Fortune 500 companies are already building their future business models presuming there will be a price on such pollution.

Oregon’s Global Warming Commission, in its report to the 2013 legislature, wrote:

“only an economy-wide signal – a carbon [pollution] cap or carbon [pollution] tax – will truly change the rules of the game in meaningful ways... not only ramping down vehicle and power plant emissions in predictable, scheduled, systematic and non‐disruptive ways, but also – and more importantly – releasing the creative genius of American inventors, businesses and yes, even our oft‐maligned – and often deservedly ‐ financial wizards, onto the problem. When we do this as a country, there is little we cannot accomplish. And through the kind of ingenuity a clear carbon signal would unleash we will do it at a cost far lower than we can guess at today. With collateral benefits we can’t yet know. We just have to decide to do it.

Asked about pricing pollution, Governor John Kitzhaber made a curious comment in The Statesman Journal: “I don't think you can have an effective carbon market with a state of less than 4 million people.”

Here’s a list of are just a few of the 39 jurisdictions that already price carbon pollution, most of whom have been doing so for years:

Boulder, Colorado, population 101,166
Iceland, population 323,000
Alberta, population 4.1 million
New Zealand, population 4.5 million
Ireland, population 4.6 million
British Columbia, population 4.6 million
Costa Rica, population 4.9 million
Norway, population 5.1 million
Finland, population 5.4 million
Denmark, population 5.6 million

Here’s Sightline Institute’s awesome animated map tracking the growth in carbon pollution pricing. It shows in the next few years, a quarter of the world's carbon pollution will have a cost attached to it.

There’s significant variation in how the carbon pollution pricing systems work, what’s covered, and what prices are charged. Clearly, Oregonians have a panoply of options to choose the system that’s right for us. Various options would boost job growth.

There may be political reasons Oregon won't go ahead on making polluters pay. But saying Oregon’s population is too small doesn't hold water.

That said, I'll make a deal.

Let’s take Governor Kitzhaber’s statement at its face: no pollution pricing while Oregon has fewer than four million residents.

But the moment Oregon’s population breaks four million (which admittedly may happen in the next few months), we’ll start to make polluters pay for global warming pollution, creating billions of dollars in revenue while improving fairness and economic signals. Deal?

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