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Bend hearing on ‘cap and trade’ bill brings divided testimony


Oregon lawmakers held a packed public hearing Saturday in Bend on a controversial “cap and trade” bill to cut the state’s carbon emissions, with more than 100 people on hand and impassioned but divided testimony on the legislation’s merits.

In general, “cap and trade” is a system to control pollution by setting limits for emissions, but allowing more capacity to be bought from others that haven’t used their full allowance.

House Bill 2020 would establish a Carbon Policy Office and require a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, providing a market-based mechanism for compliance.

The Bend hearing by the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction at Central Oregon Community College was the last of five sessions held around the state to gather public comment on the bill.

Critics warned of dire consequences of such a program, including estimates that Oregonians would wind up paying the third-highest gas prices in the nation. But supporters said such efforts are crucial to save the planet from irreversible damage.

NewsChannel 21, which live-streamed part of the hearing, talked later with some of those on hand about their views.

Brett Yost, a part-time math instructor at COCC, said, “Every time we’ve transitioned energy in our history, we’ve always come out on top. Things change, and we’re in a change right now, and we just need government leadership (that) would shape that change.”

But Jefferson County resident Sue Rahi said the costs will be far-reaching and devastating, if the bill becomes law and such a program is established.

“It’s not just gas for your car,” she said. “It’ll be our heating costs, it’ll be our food costs. Somebody even testified it would increase the cost of our garbage collection. It’ll increase the cost of living, period.”

But supporters of the move urged lawmakers and others to take a bigger-picture look at what it’s about.

“You can be concerned about your own personal gains and losses or you can be concerned about the big picture,” said Shannon Sbarra, head of business operations for Volcano Veggies in Bend. “And I think it’s really important that we all work together to find big picture solutions.”

During the hearing, Matt Cyrus of Sisters testified for the Deschutes County Farm Bureau and Oregon Family Farm Association and said the bill would hurt the very cause it espouses to promote — a shift to more energy-efficient business operations, such as in agriculture.

“The increased costs associated with this bill would reduce the bottom line for Oregon agriculture and actually slow the adoption of more energy-efficient technologies,” he said.

Deschutes County Solid Waste Director Timm Schimke also talked about the “significant” financial burden the legislation would create.

A 30-year Bend resident, former county GOP chairman John Philo, said a California study of its cap and trade policies found it “harming the neighborhoods it’s designed to protect,” as it allows businesses to continue to pollute if they pay a tax.

Indigo Teiwes, senior corporate responsibility manager for Bend’s HydroFlask, said another major industry for Central Oregon — outdoor recreation — needs this legislation.

“There will be no outdoor recreation category if we don’t take action,” she said, calling a healthy environment and the protection of outdoor resources crucial.

“Don’t be deceived by the snow we have this week,” Teiwes said, noting the overall trend of more and more severe droughts and forest fires.

“You’ve heard we’ll lose jobs” through this program, she said. “We need to look at the long-term costs versus the long-term risks, not the short-term.”

But Jon Stark, senior director of Redmond Economic Development Inc., said Oregon has one of the lowest carbon outputs in the nation and an “unrealistic cap” will cause severe repercussions.

“Oregon already has worked with utilities to strengthen their green energy portfolios,” Stark said, but the cap and trade bill would hurt the state’s “competitive edge to attract and retain businesses.” He said corporations are already evaluating if their investments in Oregon could go farther in other states.

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