Oregon Ballot Initiatives Target Fossil Fuels

Published December 12, 2019

Stymied in their efforts to get Oregon’s legislature to pass H.B. 2020, a statewide cap-and-trade bill, environmental groups are pushing to place before the voters in November 2020 three ballot initiatives to ban the use of fossil fuels in generating electricity in the state.

Earlier in 2019, Oregon’s Republican senators brought all legislative business to a halt by fleeing the state in order to deny the Democrat-controlled Senate a quorum necessary to hold a vote on the controversial carbon-cap bill. Republicans returned to the state capitol only after receiving assurances from their Democrat colleagues they would no longer try to call a vote on H.B. 2020.

Hard Emission-Reduction Targets

Led by Renew Oregon, a coalition of environmental groups has filed three initiative petitions for the 2020 ballot.

One proposed measure would require the state to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and be “carbon-free” by 2050. Renew Oregon and its allies say the state currently derives 48 percent of its electricity from coal and other fossil fuels, about 41 percent from hydropower, and approximately 7 percent from solar, wind, and other renewable sources.

A second initiative would require that all electricity be generated from sources that do not produce carbon dioxide emissions, by 2045. The third proposed ballot measure would push utilities to invest more aggressively in electric car recharging infrastructure and “clean building technologies.”

Second Try

Renew Oregon’s website indicates the ballot initiatives are a backup plan born of frustration after the legislative shutdown that blocked action on cap-and-trade legislation the organization and its allies supported earlier this year.

The environmental groups hope the potential for ballot initiatives will pressure the legislature to pass some version of a carbon cap during its short session early in 2020.

“The Clean Energy Jobs bill remains our top priority and we will continue to build upon more than a decade of hard work that brought it so close to the finish line in 2019,” says Renew Oregon on its website. “We hope legislators will be more successful in 2020, because the cap-and-invest program in Clean Energy Jobs is the biggest thing Oregon can do to take responsibility for our share of the climate crisis.

“However, for the sake of our children and our state, we cannot allow another failure, … [so] with our partners in Oregonians For Clean Air, we’re launching a campaign to bring climate action directly to the voters in Oregon,” Renew Oregon states. “If our democracy and legislature fail us again in 2020, we’ll have the campaign in place to move forward with [three] ballot measures, and we will win.”

Following in California’s Footsteps

H.B. 2020 was modeled on California’s Global Warming Act of 2006, which charged the California Air Resources Board with creating a system to trade carbon dioxide emission credits. Under H.B. 2020, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission would carry out the same task.

Oregonians are unlikely to be pleased with the consequences of California-like climate legislation, which has produced awful results, says Dan Kish, a distinguished senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research.

“People in Oregon need to wake up before their state becomes the next California, with rolling blackouts and rampaging forest fires,” said Kish. “Elitist greens want subsidies for their Teslas and are jacking up the cost of electricity for ordinary working people.

“Whether it’s by legislation or the ballot box, these so-called climate policies will have disastrous consequences in Oregon, as they have in California,” Kish said.

Rising Costs, Fleeing Residents

Higher energy costs will drive residents out of Oregon if the state restricts fossil fuel use, says Jay Lehr, Ph.D., a senior policy analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition.

“If Oregon adopts these policies, the state will join California and New York as examples not to follow,” said Lehr. “Things people have taken for granted for decades, things made possible by affordable energy, will be out of reach for most, resulting in many average Oregonians fleeing to other states.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research and a senior policy analyst with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.