It’s Time Oregon Put a Price on Carbon

By Camila Thorndike and Dan Golden

Editor’s note: A similarly argued article about the impacts of climate change due to carbon emissions for the southern Oregon region was published at the on December 29, 2014.

A carbon tax would help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that go into the air.

Climate change hurts Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The region’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, viticulture and forestry — all of which are climate-dependent. Summers are hotter and drier with rains occurring as storms, rather than the typical drizzle. The snowpack is decreasing. Less water for irrigation, increasing incidence of pests and disease, and growing competition from weeds threatens local agriculture. The region is becoming a less ideal place to grow some of its most popular wine varietals. The range and growth rates of trees, particularly the Douglas fir, is increasingly restricted, making forestry even less profitable. Not only does climate change negatively affect the economy of the Willamette Valley, the increased summer heat and particulate matter from forest fires has a severe impact on the health of the elderly and those with respiratory problems.

These hardships are tiny compared to the challenges our children and grandchildren face if we fail to act on climate change. Every reputable authority — from the Pentagon to the United Nations — warns that our current trajectory will lead to unprecedented social, economic and military crises. If we cannot secure a transition from fossil fuels before the end of the decade, it will not be possible for future generations to adapt.

Fortunately, the solution is in sight. Oregon has the rare opportunity to lead our country and the world with the policy economists and climatologists say we need. We can hold out-of-state polluters accountable for climate change with a price on carbon, either by charging them a fee or by requiring them to buy permits before they burn fossil fuels.

Last week, the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University presented to the Legislature their long-awaited study on the impacts of a carbon pollution fee in Oregon. It showed a significant reduction in carbon pollution and a negligible effect on our economy. Another study, conducted by Regional Economic Models Inc., predicts that a carbon tax would create 450,000 new jobs in our region by 2025 — if all the revenue were returned to citizens as a dividend.

Buckminster Fuller once said that a problem adequately stated is very nearly a problem solved. Our problem is not a shortage of solar panels or ethanol or hybrid cars, nor is it an abundance of gas and oil pipelines. Our problem is underpriced fossil fuels. We do not pay their hidden costs when we fill our tanks — that comes later, in the form of emergency drought relief, hurricane cleanup and forest fires. If polluters were accountable for these costs, a price signal would reverberate throughout our economy. It would reward smart decisions and punish wasteful ones. Both proven and novel energy alternatives would attract new capital. Nothing but a price on carbon can spark the systemic transformation we need, and that’s because it targets the problem at its source.

The Oregon Legislature should hold the polluters accountable for the damage they do to the Willamette Valley economy by making them pay to pollute. And 100 percent of the revenue should be distributed evenly among all Oregonians, because the natural beneficiaries are the victims of climate change — all of us.Φ

Camila Thorndike is executive director of Oregon Climate. Dan Golden is policy director of Oregon Climate. This article was originally published on January 16 in the Capital Press, the West’s Ag Website. See

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