Any day now, Oregon state legislators are expected to introduce the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, which would connect Oregon to California’s cap-and-trade system, committing it to statewide greenhouse gas reductions of 80 percent by 2050. It is widely considered likely to pass.
The cap represents only the first of eight ambitious goals in Governor Kate Brown’s comprehensive climate agenda. But she was reelected with a comfortable margin and Democrats control both houses of the legislature, so she’s in a strong position to shepherd the rest through as well.
Also on that agenda (among other things): build electric vehicle infrastructure, incentivize the growth of the EV market, increase energy efficiency investments, and create a new state climate policy agency responsible for coordinating climate action.
Recently, newly elected New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that committed the state — the country’s third-largest producer of oil and gas — to cutting statewide greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030.
It would also incentivize renewable energy development; increase funding for energy efficiency; tighten pollution standards for vehicles and oil-and-gas infrastructure; and create a cross-agency climate change task force to coordinate state efforts. Last but not least, the order joined New Mexico to the US Climate Alliance, a group of now 19 states committed to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
Her executive order convenes a “climate change task force” — led by the state’s energy and environment secretaries — that will call on all Cabinet secretaries to develop an economy-wide strategy for combatting global warming. It set a Sept. 15 deadline for initial recommendations.
Another bill backed by the governor seeks to ramp up production of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar to 50 percent by 2030 for investor-owned utilities.
The state will explore ways to add electrical transmission lines to spur new wind and solar energy development and seek revisions to energy efficiency provisions in building codes, said Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
Lujan Grisham’s aspirations must pass through the state legislature, but with Democrats solidly in control of both houses, their chances are good. A bill raising the state’s renewable energy mandate — to 50 percent renewables by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040 — has already been introduced.
The governor took the signing as an opportunity to talk a little smack: “Our goal is to eclipse [other] states that are successfully doing this work,” she said at the signing, singling out a nearby neighbor. Speaking of which …
I’ve written a great deal about exciting developments in Colorado, including coal’s terrible fortunes, super-cheap renewable energy, and a major utility committed to 100 percent clean energy (but that wants to invest $380 million more in natural gas plants by 2023). This monopoly’s control on power is keeping cities and communities from the cheaper and cleaner energy they could get with freedom of choice. Without a protected monopoly (Xcel), with a CCA or public ownership cities could get:
- 89% Renewable Energy (2024) at about two-thirds the Cost of Power from Xcel!
- 100 % Renewable Energy (2030) at about ¾ the Cost of Power from Xcel!
According to recent city requests for indicative pricing. Northern Colorado (Platte River Power Authority – PRPA) already offers electricity 25% cheaper than Xcel (they are not extracting profits to send out of state). We can clean up our electricity faster with the ability of Colorado cities, businesses, utilities, co-ops have the right of choice with their electricity; e.g., access to wholesale electricity on an open market. This is the #1 item listed by PRPA that they need to reach their goal of 100% RE by 2030. See http://energyfreedomco.org/community-options.php
Something else Colorado now has: Democrats in control of both houses of the state legislature and a governor, Jared Polis, committed to 100 percent clean electricity by 2040. In January, at his first State of the State address, Polis reiterated his commitment to clean energy, voiced his support for the Colorado Energy Impact Assistance Act (which would help utilities shut down coal plants and cushion communities during the transition), and promised to “take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil and gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact.”
Xcel Energy, Colorado regulators weigh utility’s role in electric-vehicle market, Denver Post, February 5, 2019. A bill enabling investor-owned utilities to own and operate charging stations as part of their regulated services, and to build a return on their investment into rate bases, is under consideration by the Colorado legislature. That would dovetail well with transportation electrification cases that Xcel plans to file with the Public Utilities Commission.
Honorable mentions: Illinois, Maine, Florida, Michigan, and Idaho
In late January, Illinois’ new Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, signed an executive order that joined his state to the US Climate Alliance. While it’s something short of a firm commitment, the order says Illinois “has the opportunity to be on a path to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.” (Notice “clean and renewable” — that makes room for the state’s nuclear power plants.)
Newly elected governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan is joining the Climate Alliance and singed an executive order creating an Office of Climate and Energy. Tony Evers of Wisconsin also vowed during his campaign to join the Climate Alliance.
Maine’s new governor Janet Mills replaces the much-loathed Paul LePage, who did everything in his power to squelch solar and wind development in the state. Mills has promised to restore net metering, remove limits on community solar, and support wind power development.
In Maine, the state legislature passed multiple renewable energy initiatives in the past year — but they were vetoed by the current governor. As your next governor, I will make sure Maine is a leader on this issue.#mepolitics #MEGovDebatehttps://insideclimatenews.org/news/27092018/election-2018-governor-races-renewable-energy-wisconsin-maine-michigan-colorado-new-mexico-nevada …
Governor Ron DeSantis surprised many observers by issuing an executive order containing a sweeping series of environmental directives that would help the state adapt to sea-level rise, restore the Everglades, and prevent offshore oil and gas development, among many other things.
It would also create an Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency and appoint a chief science officer for the state, to coordinate research and align agencies behind a scientific agenda. There’s no mention of climate change, and only time will tell if DeSantis follows through on his commitments, but at the very least he’s a refreshing change from Rick Scott.
Meanwhile, Brad Little, the Republican governor of the extremely conservative state of Idaho, recently broke with the national GOP and acknowledged that “climate change is real” and needs to be dealt with. “Back in the old days when I was a kid,” he said, “we had winters.” Acknowledging reality is a fairly low bar, but the GOP has a long way to climb, so, huzzah.
Oh, and a county
One last tidbit. This week, the King County Council in Washington state passed a six-month moratorium on new fossil-fuel infrastructure in the county, declared a climate emergency, and instructed the county executive’s office to scrutinize existing and planned infrastructure to determine its climate impact.
King County (home of Seattle) is the second jurisdiction to take a step like this. In 2016, Portland, Oregon, banned all new fossil-fuel infrastructure, a measure that has since withstood court challenge.
State progress will eventually carry the feds along
What do all these recent developments tell us? First, the clean energy tide is unstoppable. The 19 states in the US Climate Alliance represent an enormous market that clean energy technologies are in no danger of saturating any time soon. There is nothing but running room, and as clean energy grows and gets cheaper, the market will expand.
The call for 100 percent clean energy is practically Democratic orthodoxy at this point. And Trump’s wan attempts to save coal look sillier and sillier.
And as Portland and King County show, in the most liberal areas of the country, the fight against fossil fuel supply — the mines, wells, railroads, and export terminals — is growing faster than anyone expected. It doesn’t enjoy nearly the consensus that demand-side measures (like carbon pricing and clean energy mandates) do, but it is making remarkable strides. My prediction: It won’t be long before “keep it in the ground” is the new marker of lefty climate commitment.
There’s no way of knowing if these state policies will compensate for the lack of federal leadership on climate change. Most of the models show the US falling short of its targets.
But models don’t capture policies not yet passed, and they don’t often capture tipping points. As an increasing proportion of the US populace is represented by lawmakers who take climate change seriously, the rationale for holdouts is shrinking. The plutocratic wall of national resistance to sane climate policy cannot hold forever. And when it breaks, there will be a flood.
Oregon’s profound climate risks underscore need for action, Forbes
Oregon’s climate action underscores the necessity of climate triage policymakers must exercise as temperatures rise: quickly identify the biggest sources of emissions, then rapidly decarbonize each of those sectors.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports we have 12 years to avoid locking in dangerous climate change. Meanwhile, U.S. emissions rose 3.4% in 2018 even though the U.S. government acknowledges America risks hundreds of billions in economic damage, extreme weather disasters, and food scarcity without aggressive climate action.
These risks are especially profound in Oregon. The state’s economy depends on industries like agriculture, forestry, fishing, and outdoor recreation; more than 40% of its total electricity supply comes from hydropower. Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns threaten each of these pillars: Summer precipitation could fall 30%, snowmelt could happen up to a month earlier, wildfire acres burned could quadruple, and irrigation water shortages could happen eight out of every ten years.
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Related economic losses could be staggering by 2040: $1 billion in annual fisheries losses, $266 million in annual cold-water fishing losses, $124 million in annual snow-based recreation losses, and $37 million in additional air conditioning costs.
Two new proposals could make Oregon a national climate action leader
Fortunately, the same decarbonization policies that can prevent climate change can also drive economic prosperity, and state policymakers are embracing both sides of the equation. Two new proposals could vault Oregon to the forefront of U.S. climate leadership and accelerate its clean energy economy.
Late in 2018 Governor Kate Brown released her Oregon Climate Agenda, which proposed creating an Oregon Climate Authority. This new state agency would coordinate statewide clean energy programs and prioritize decarbonization efforts. While this would be the first U.S. state agency solely dedicated to climate action, the proposal is still conceptual and most details haven’t been released yet, so its ultimate impact is yet to be determined.
The more important proposal on Oregon’s horizon is the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, expected to be introduced early in the 2019 legislative session. This proposal would establish statewide carbon pricing through a cap-and-trade market featuring a steadily declining emissions cap requiring the state’s biggest polluters to purchase permits for emissions above the cap, and then link this program to the California-Quebec carbon market starting in 2021.
A steadily declining carbon cap with long-term certainty and ambitious goals sends an economic signal to businesses and consumers, rewards decarbonization efforts, and complements other clean energy policies like Oregon’s 50% by 2040 renewable portfolio standard.
The Clean Energy Jobs Bill would reduce statewide emissions up to an estimated 80% by 2050 while reinvesting hundreds of millions of dollars in permit proceeds into projects that reduce emissions and benefit the state’s communities. “Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill is the kind of bold climate action we need,” said Climate Solutions Executive Director Gregg Small via email. “It reduces emissions and creates jobs, protects our forests and working lands, and strengthens the economy in communities that need it the most.”
Governor Kate Brown says she will sign the bill, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek both committed to passing it, and other state legislators say the legislation is all but certain to pass in 2019 after multiple pro-climate state legislators were elected in 2018.
Oregon Clean Energy Jobs Bill could be economic catalyst
Experience shows the Clean Energy Jobs Bill could become an economic engine. California’s cap-and-trade program has generated nearly $10 billion in permit revenue for statewide re-investment since auctions began in 2012, and has reduced emissions roughly 12 million metric tons (MMT) cumulatively since 2015, while the state’s economy has grown to be the world’s fifth-largest.
More than 55,000 residents already work in Oregon’s clean energy sector, 50 times as many as those employed by fossil fuel industries, and this number is growing 11% annually – faster than the statewide average. These jobs typically can’t be outsourced, are often accessible with a high school or technical degree, and 11,000 of them are located in rural communities.
More than 850 Oregon businesses and more than 200 farms and ranches support the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, and 2017 research estimated increasing solar energy’s share of statewide electricity supply to 10% by 2027 would create 100,000 job-years and attract $5-$8 billion in private investment.
Compare this upside to coal generation’s dismal outlook – a December 2018 report to state regulators from PacifiCorp, Oregon’s second-largest utility, confirmed the bulk of its existing coal units cost more to operate than closing them and building new clean energy – and the trend is clear: The Clean Energy Jobs Bill is as much of an economic investment as it is an investment in a safe climate future.
Fossil fuel opposition, emissions reduction pace to determine Clean Energy Jobs Bill success
But while passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Bill seems likely, two factors – Washington State’s carbon tax defeat at the polls, and the bill’s emissions reduction target stringency – could determine its ultimate success.
In 2018, the oil industry spent a record $31 million persuading voters to reject Initiative 1631 in Washington State, which would have created a statewide carbon tax. This avalanche of fossil funds led to its defeat, despite polling showing 64% of voters supported emissions reduction. This cautionary tale shows that, even if policymakers successfully adopt enabling legislation, the fossil fuel industry could try to overturn it via statewide election.
Oregon’s emission reduction pace under the Clean Energy Jobs Bill also matters to its ultimate decarbonization efforts. If the final legislation does not include an interim 2035 emissions target, the state could generate an extra 106 MMT CO2e by 2050 –a 13% total increase in cumulative emissions compared to a more ambitious pace.
A stringent interim target would also generate additional permit auction proceeds. California’s example shows investing a significant portion of proceeds in clean energy or projects that increase climate resilience helps increase equity.
Strong Oregon climate action could become a national model
Climate change is already impacting Oregon, and the state risks billions in future economic damages. Ambitious policy, in Oregon and beyond, can still prevent the worst impacts. By passing the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, state leaders could cut emissions and help spur a trend for others to follow.
“People around the country are watching what Oregon is doing,” said Small. “A strong climate program would be transformative for our state and become a model for other states – and potentially the federal government.”