Professor Barry Rabe explains the importance of Oregon's carbon cap bill

November 30, 2018

With the Democratic victories in Oregon’s legislative and gubernatorial elections, one may assume that the state’s proposed carbon cap bill will quickly pass in both chambers of the state legislature and become law as soon as Governor Kate Brown, who won re-election, signs the bill. Gary Warner in “Carbon cap could face ballot challenge,” which ran in The Bulletin on November 20, 2018, suggests the politics are not that direct as popular referenda, combined with the Herculean contributions of pro-oil lobbyists, have defeated a similar proposal in neighboring Washington State.

Despite the bill’s cap-and-invest framework, the opposition offers a compelling argument, asserting that the proposal means that consumers will be paying more at the pump. Ford School professor Barry Rabe traces the bill’s bumpy pathway to the governor’s desk. Despite Democratic majorities, Rabe says, “this is hard if the effect is to impose an increased price on a commodity we all use – and we all know how much we pay for a gallon of gas or a month of our electrical bill.”

As such, the bill’s success depends upon the average consumer’s evaluation of short-term and long-term costs and willingness to pay. “You’re asking people to do something now and accept a sacrifice to make something better in the future,” Rabe says.

While the 2018 blue wave reached the Pacific Northwest, all eyes are looking to the state of Oregon as a potential trailblazer for future carbon cap bills. The bill’s defeat could also force environmentalists to return to the drawing board while the oil industry notches another win in their victory belt. Republicans, Democrats, big oil, conservationists - Professor Rabe says “They’re [all] watching” Oregon.

To read Gary Warner’s complete article “Carbon cap could face ballot challenge,” click here.

Barry Rabe is the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy and the director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Ford School. He is also the Arthur Thurnau Professor of Environmental Policy and holds courtesy appointments in the Program in the Environment, the Department of Political Science, and the School for Environment and Sustainability. His research examines climate and energy politics and his newest book, Can We Price Carbon? (MIT Press) was released in spring 2018.