Proposal offered to cut greenhouse gases

GRANTS PASS — Proponents of making Oregon a leader in controlling greenhouse gases have a new proposal before the Legislature.

But representatives of utilities and industry said Wednesday they still don't like provisions that would put a hard cap on how much carbon dioxide and other gases can come out of their stacks without paying penalties, or give the Department of Environmental Quality authority over emissions.

"We are not compromising on the hard cap and delegation of authority to DEQ," said lobbyist Mark Nelson.

The Senate environment committee holds a hearing today on the new version of Senate Bill 80, and legislative leaders and the governor remain hopeful they can get a bill passed despite opposition from the targets of the bill.

"The majority of the governor's package in the Legislature will get through the system in one form or another and we will take significant steps forward on climate," said Dave Van't Hof, the governor's sustainability policy adviser. "The question will be whether Senate Bill 80 is a part of that. We are still very hopeful it is going to be."

Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, chair of the environment committee, said the amendments represent a good compromise and have a good chance of passage.

"The industrial sector has been opposed to everything we ever proposed," she said. "I don't expect them to be on board."

After negotiations with utilities and industry broke down Monday, the group RePower, a coalition supporting control of greenhouse gases, is moving forward with changes to Senate Bill 80, which originally would have put Oregon on track to join a regional cap and trade system.

That bill ran into trouble as expectations grew that Congress would tackle the issue, and the economy went into freefall, making any prospects of increasing costs on utilities, manufacturers, transportation to reduce their emissions more difficult.

The new version no longer commits Oregon to the Western Climate Initiative, a regional plan to control gases that contribute to global warming, and drops creation of a marketplace to buy and sell credits and offsets for emissions. Efforts in other states to authorize the Western Climate Initiative have stalled.

While supporters maintain the new bill removes a hard cap on emissions, opponents note that it calls for giving state agencies authority to push utilities, manufacturers, and transportation to meet goals set by the Legislature in 2007, which call for rolling back emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Bob Jenks of the Citizens' Utility Board said it is time to get serious, because utilities need to know what rules to expect to make decisions on what kinds of energy to develop to meet future needs.

"The utility is OK if you lowball it," he said. "It's not their money at risk. They get this passed through to customers. So if we miss the boat and have to pay lots of money in carbon taxes or cap and trade costs and other things because we haven't reduced emissions, those will be passed on to their customers."

Portland General Electric just came up with estimates that rolling emissions back to 10 percent below 1990 levels will cost their customers $7 billion, and PacifiCorp will have to pass on $4.5 billion in costs, said Nelson.

Nelson said his coalition of utilities, manufacturers and building trades groups support an alternative that would make controls on greenhouse gases part of the regular power planning process before the Public Utilities Commission, which could take into consideration economic conditions as it ratchets down emissions.

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