So we’ve debunked the myths that a polluters-pay program to curb carbon pollution would hurt Oregon’s economy and, in particular, Oregon’s rural residents. Neither of those claims is true; they’re the tired, unfounded bunk we’ve heard over and over from the well-funded special interest actors working hard to block the climate action that Oregonians want—specifically, the opportunity the state had in the Clean Energy Jobs Bill.
Another myth you’ll hear from those back-room dealers is a sort of three-pronged play that aims to make the policy seem out of touch with the priorities of everyday people. They want the public to think that making the fossil-fuel industry pay for their pollution is too complicated, too vulnerable to manipulation, and too government-bloating to be good policy.
On all of these points, though, they’re wrong.
A polluters-pay program is simple
At dinner, my family talks about how our days went. If things went pretty well for my son, we give him two quarters. If things didn’t go well, like he didn’t get to school on time or the teacher had to ask him to stop distracting other kids, we take the quarters away. And if he went above and beyond, like making an overture of friendship to a classmate he’s had a hard time with, he might get a whole dollar.
You probably see where I’m going with this. Though opponents to climate progress would have you believe that a polluters-pay program is too complicated for you to understand, the fact is that even a seven-year-old can comprehend its fundamental concepts. Only of course, with climate change, we’re dealing with bigger stakes than classroom distractions.
Here’s how Oregon’s polluters-pay program would work: the state’s largest polluters—about 70 electricity and oil importers and large manufacturers—would have to pay into a state carbon fund for every ton of pollution they emitted. If they innovated cleaner solutions in their production processes and implemented them to start polluting less, as a carbon price would encourage them to do, they’d pay less into that fund. Meanwhile, those carbon fund dollars would turn right around and head to communities and small businesses, helping them design and carry out sustainable innovations that were right for their own local needs. And each year, the price of pollution would go up a little, gradually increasing the pressure on the fossil-fuel industry to do its part and contribute to Oregonians’ public health and climate priorities.
Just like my son is seeing the benefits of playing nice, over time big polluters would shift to solutions that benefit a new, cleaner economy.
A polluters-pay program is secure
What’s another tried and true tactic for disparaging good policy? Presenting it as vulnerable to the crafty hacking of dishonest actors. In the case of carbon pricing programs, climate opponents like to point to early errors in the programs of the European Union, so let’s examine those more closely.
Two problems with the EU’s cap-and-trade program got a lot of press about a decade ago. First, the EU’s offset program, which was an add-on to cap-and-trade and not part of the program itself, was flawed, and those flaws resulted in some participants being able to manipulate the system to their benefit. Second, the online carbon accounts were not properly secured, and thieves hacked into them and successfully stole allowances. The EU learned quickly from these challenges and responded by closing up the offset loophole and implementing tighter digital security.
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California learned from the EU’s experience and asked several well-known economists to “stress-test” its own system, looking for potential vulnerabilities. Those experts concluded it would be very difficult to for a firm to manipulate the state’s polluters-pay program.
Clearly, good program design and more modern security devices, paired with nimble course correction when needed, can reliably shield against hacking and market manipulation. Fortunately for Oregon, we can learn from others’ real-world experience, mistakes and successes alike, to design our program—and we’ve done just that with the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. California, Quebec, British Columbia, nine Northeast states, and others have been operating polluters-pay programs for years with stable prices and no hint of gaming or hacking, and they provide plenty of lessons and inspiration for our climate policy aspirations.
A polluters-pay program is efficient
Enter the “big government” bogeyman! This is another favorite for the fossil-fuel industry to trot out to halt climate progress as it tries to convince the public that a polluters-pay policy is just a tool to grow government and raise taxes. We know better, though.
First, we know that government is a powerful tool for working together to provide protections and solve community problems that individual families or businesses can’t take on alone. When wildfires tear through towns and cities in eastern Cascadia, we count on civic firefighters to put them out. When Boeing criminally polluted the Duwamish River, we needed government agencies to hold that corporation responsible. When researchers at the US Forest Service discovered dangerous air pollution in Portland, we depended on government to impose new protections and hold polluters accountable.
Second, we know that polluters know government is a powerful tool—because they spend billions of dollars lobbying that very government every year to block public health and environmental protections that might reduce their profits. Right now, coal and oil corporations are dumping harmful pollution into our air and water unchecked and free of cost. The cost, instead, is falling on the shoulders of everyday people in the form of public health hazards and resulting hospital bills, fire and storm damage to local homes and businesses, and harm to our iconic shellfish and other marine industries.
Oregonians don’t have to accept this. It’s our government, and we have laws on the books to limit this dangerous pollution. We should expect coal and oil corporations wanting to do business in our state to honor those laws and share the public values that they represent—not dodge their responsibilities to us, their neighbors, customers, or employees.
In sum, the Clean Energy Jobs Bill would use the tools of state government to act on Oregonians’ clear climate action priorities. It would build on the lessons of other states’ and regions’ policies to effect a simple, strong, efficient program to hold polluters accountable to our values and laws and advance the clean energy transition we want to help lead.