Caucus discusses impacts of carbon reduction on coastal communities

Ecola Point at Ecola State Park, just north of Cannon Beach. Lawmakers say they want to take coastal communities into account as they write cap-and-trade plan.

LINCOLN CITY — The Oregon Coast is likely to acutely feel climate change: rising sea levels, increasing ocean acidity, and higher water temperatures.

What’s less clear is how things might change for coastal communities if the Legislature adopts a carbon reduction policy during the 2019 session.

State lawmakers indicated Wednesday, at an annual economic development summit hosted by the Oregon Coastal Caucus, that they’re eager take rural coastal communities into account.

Wednesday’s events focused on carbon emissions and potential ways the Legislature might seek to implement a carbon pricing or cap-and-trade style program to lower the state’s carbon emissions.

“We’ve come to realize that to attack this problem, we have to make our rural economies front and center,” said state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, during a panel discussion on how rural communities may be affected by a carbon reduction policy.

The state’s coast is replete with natural resources, including forests, fields and marshlands, that can sequester carbon, Dembrow said.

Climate change mitigation or adaptation may also present commercial and job opportunities on the coast.

Rising sea levels, for example, will mean coastal infrastructure such as roads will have to be moved or modified, but there may also be more opportunities to develop renewable energy and make irrigation technology more efficient.

State economist Mark McMullen noted that a carbon reduction policy targeting large commercial emitters of carbon would not have a huge direct impact on coast relative to other parts of the state.

Any carbon tax or pricing plan “that passes the cost-benefit sniff test” will target big emitters first, McMullen said.

Coastal communities, then, would be more affected by any downstream costs such as residential energy costs and transportation fuel costs.

“This is where you see a disproportionate burden on all the rural communities, but in particular the coast,” McMullen said. “So, not only do coastal communities require more transportation fuel and heating fuel just because of the weather and the distances they have to travel, but more importantly, these are a biggger burden on low-income households because these expenses make up a lot more of their overall budget.”

McMullen noted some prior policy proposals have included tax subsidies and low-income energy assistance to offset some of those costs.

State Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, said she felt carbon reduction and climate issues were important, but implored her colleagues to consider the effect of potential increases in residential and transportation energy costs for her constituents.

“Please, while you’re putting this together, understand that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of upside for a very poor, rural community who is older...I need to be able to go to them honestly and say, ‘This is going to benefit you,’ and right now I don’t believe I can do that,” McKeown said. “I don’t see a huge upside for small, rural communities.”

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