In a democracy, the majority rules. But when the Democratic majority decided to trade Oregon’s economic free-market system for one of central government control — while ignoring our constitution and making a shambles of Oregon’s rural and low-income economies — we walked.
These parts of House Bill 2020, which would have imposed greenhouse gas-emissions limits on businesses and forced them to buy allowances whose cost, set by the state, would get passed on to consumers, were particularly egregious.
The bill’s regulatory cart is way out in front of the technology horse. The bill forces drivers to pay ever higher fuel prices years before the development of electric trucks and before installation of the infrastructure needed to allow meaningful use of electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles. Likewise, there’s a constitutional problem. The billions that Oregonians would be forced to pay in carbon taxes couldn’t be used to construct such infrastructure because that money is constitutionally restricted.
HB 2020 would increase the cost of fuel by 22 cents a gallon on Jan. 1, 2021, without regard to significant increases in the cost of fuel already in the pipeline. Those include Oregon’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (now five cents a gallon and on its way to 25 cents over the next few years); the 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax authorized by HB 2017; the international ban on bunker fuel for sea transport, estimated to increase the cost of diesel by 20 to 30 percent effective January 2020; and the recently enacted Corporate Activities Tax, which exempts fuel sales but does not exempt other costs of fuel such as freight. HB 2020 callously stacks its 22 cents per gallon on top of these increases.
Democrats tried to design HB 2020 so that its 22-cent-per-gallon cost would not be considered a tax, even though you have no choice but to pay and the government gets to spend it. This unconstitutional approach kept the verboten word “tax” out of the bill, side-stepped the three-fifths legislative vote requirement and flouted the prohibition against use of an “emergency clause” in a tax bill. (Emergency clauses are often used to prevent referral of legislation to the people.)
Finally, the Democrats silently changed how to measure Oregon’s carbon reduction. Instead of factoring in the amount of carbon sequestered by Oregon’s forests and sea, the bill tallies only emissions reductions. This seems innocuous, but the result skyrockets the cost of the scheme and ignores Oregon’s natural carbon sinks, which, if used appropriately, could help Oregon become a major global player in the sequestration of carbon.
Yes, Oregon’s Republican senators walked, and yes, HB 2020 is dead. But it will be back. Maybe the demonstrations against the bill, the three brave Democratic senators who also opposed the bill, the Senate walkouts and the thousands upon thousands of emails supporting the death of 2020 will prompt the majority to actually address the many and damaging shortcomings of cap and trade. And maybe this time they will have the courage to let Oregonians vote on it.