Legislative Pulse: Defending Constituents’ Climate Interests in Oregon

Published August 2, 2019

Editor’s Note: Oregon state Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby), a U.S. military veteran with a degree in chemistry and a minor in physics, is serving his third term in the Oregon Senate. He is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness and serves on the Senate Committee on Business and General Government and the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction and as vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. He also serves on the Oregon Global Warming Commission. 

Burnett: There was much controversy in Oregon over a bill designated as H.B. 2020. What was that legislation about?

Olsen: House Bill 2020, known as the Clean Energy Jobs bill, was a copy of California’s law. Commonly referred to as cap and trade, its goal was to cap carbon dioxide emissions by putting a price per metric ton on those that “polluted.” I personally referred to H.B. 2020 as Cap and Swindle, because its goal was not to reduce so-called pollution but to redistribute wealth from the productive to those who saw free money on the horizon.

Carbon dioxide is necessary for life on earth. Without it, vegetation would not exist, but Al Gore declared CO2 a “greenhouse gas,” and the Democrats figured out how to tax it.

In Oregon and California, only those emitting 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide per year had to pay. Those emitting 24,999 metric tons were exempt. They still emit CO2, but are exempt from the tax. Although smaller emitters were exempt, they would receive a carbon dioxide credit they could sell on the open market and make additional money for doing nothing other than staying below the cap.

Burnett: Why did you oppose H.B. 2020?

Olsen: This legislation was a scam from the beginning, driving up costs to companies, utilities, manufacturers, gasoline distributors, etc., so Oregon could reduce its already very low emissions. This meant every Oregonian would have higher electric and gas bills.

Manufacturers who compete nationally and globally—called Energy Intensive, Trade Exposed companies in the bill—would receive a few free credits, but they would quickly be reduced. The logic was this would give these companies an opportunity to use new technology, technology which currently does not exist, to lower their emissions.

The problem is, to reduce emissions without new technology, companies would have to raise prices to buy credits, which doesn’t reduce emissions; it just makes you pay for what you emit, or, failing the ability to raise prices, lay people off to control costs, or reduce production. None of those options being palatable, the last option is to move out of state, which many companies threatened to do.

Proponents’ own experts testified that even if successful, Oregon’s carbon dioxide reduction would have an “imperceptible” impact on Climate Change.

I opposed H.B. 2020 for these reasons. 

Burnett: Why did Republicans feel it was necessary to walk out of the Senate to prevent a vote on the bill? 

Olsen: The Senate Republicans prevented a quorum so a vote would not be taken on H.B. 2020. We, the Republicans, left the building, some even the state.

Several Republican members had been on the Joint Carbon Reduction Committee from its inception. We heard testimony from all sides and submitted over sixty amendments to the legislation. Few, if any, were accepted. It was a “my way or the highway” mentality from the supermajority, so we chose the highway.

By preventing a quorum, we focused attention on the fact the bill would raise $550 million in the first year alone, costing Oregonians higher utility bills and at least an additional 22 cents per gallon of gas. These were costs were too impactful on Oregonians to let stand.

This bill did not count this increased revenue as a tax, which would require 20 votes on the floor of the Senate to pass. The supermajority knew they would never get the necessary votes for this legislation, so they intentionally wrote it as mandatory purchase of credits, stating explicitly it was not a tax.

They even included a section in the bill moving any lawsuit challenging it immediately to the state Supreme Court for adjudication. The problem, as I see it, is all the justices were appointed by the governor, making one skeptical of the outcome.

I liken our action to the Boston Tea Party: battling taxation without representation. In our case, however, the majority party was on a power trip, denying the minority party input into the process. The walkout was necessary to bring this to the public’s attention. Our departure did that. The uproar from Oregonians was profound. The bill died.

Burnett: Oregon recently imposed a five-year ban on fracking. How did you vote on the bill?

Olsen: The fracking bill was an interesting piece of legislation: Ban something that does not happen in our state. Sounds like the supermajority needed to placate the environmental base while they still held power, which seemed to be a theme this session.

Oregon has only one area that can provide natural gas, in the northwest corner of the state. No fracking has taken place there, and no other areas of the state have any known resources that could possibly be released through fracking. Thus the bill makes no difference.

We banned nuclear power. We banned soda straws. We banned placer mining. We banned plastic bags. Environmentalists rule the roost in this state. If we don’t like it, ban it. If we can’t ban it, tax it.

Welcome to the new Oregon society.

The legislation was a waste of time and money, so I voted no.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

Official Connections:

State Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby): https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/olsen; [email protected]