Baker County’s state representative contends that a bill intended to reduce Oregon’s carbon emissions could have the opposite effect globally and also threaten one of the county’s largest private employers.
Rep. Lynn Findley, a Republican from Vale, said during a floor speech at the Capitol on Jan. 31 that House Bill 2020, the carbon “cap and trade” bill, could have what he described in a press release as “unintended consequences.”
Among those is the potential to make Ash Grove Cement, which operates a plant near Durkee, about 27 miles southeast of Baker City, less competitive against Chinese cement makers.
During his speech to the House of Representatives, Findley said that if Oregon levies a carbon tax on Ash Grove, it could result in more cement being imported from China.
“It would make it harder to compete with China because China doesn’t have the same land use, same environmental regulations that Ash Grove complies with,” Findley said.
Ash Grove employees about 115 people at the Durkee plant with an annual payroll of $13 million, according to the company, which is based in Overland Park, Kansas.
(Some of the Durkee plant employees live in Malheur County or in Idaho.)
Ash Grove is the third largest property tax payer in Baker County, having paid about $739,000 last year, according to County Assessor Kerry Savage.
(The two with higher property tax bills are DE Shaw Renewable Inv. LLC, which owns wind farms in the county and has appealed its bill, totaling $1.9 million; and Idaho Power Company, which paid almost $1.3 million last year.)
Findley contends that the carbon emissions bill could potentially prompt the closure of the Durkee plant, which he estimates would lead to 600 lost jobs in Baker and Malheur counties. That includes jobs that depend on the plant but aren’t with Ash Grove directly.
The bill would limit — hence “cap” — carbon emissions for companies. Firms that exceed the cap would trade credits with companies that are under the cap in order to avoid fines from the state.
Findley said that although he isn’t opposed to efforts to reduce carbon emissions, he doesn’t believe the proposed law is a reasonable strategy.
“Oregon’s carbon footprint is minute compared to the nation, it’s almost indescribable,” Findley said.
According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oregon produced almost 38 million metric tons of carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels, which ranks the state at 38th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Overall the U.S. puts out more than 5 billion metric tons of carbon every year. Oregon makes up well under 1 percent of that output.
Gov. Kate Brown has already announced her support for the 98-page draft bill, which proponents have dubbed the Clean Energy Jobs bill.
Since April 2018 the state has had a Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction meeting to work on legislation such as HB 2020, but Findley contends Democrats have worked without input from Republicans or members of the public to develop the bill.
Sen. Cliff Bentz, a Republican from Ontario whose district includes Baker County, is one of the vice chairs of the committee.
Bentz told The Oregonian in late January that decisions about the first draft of the bill were made without input from himself or other Republican vice chairs.
Findley says it is alarming to him that there hasn’t been any chance for public comment on the bill yet.
According to the Legislature’s website, information sessions, where the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction will hear from invited speakers, are scheduled today and Feb. 11.
Public hearings on the bill are scheduled for Feb. 15 and Feb. 18 in Salem.
But Findley said he wants legislative leaders to schedule public hearings around the state, similar to what the state did when crafting legislation dealing with transportation and education reform.
“It’s really disappointing that we haven’t had public hearings, we’ve requested that a road show occur and that Eastern Oregon be represented in those hearings,” Findley said.
Findley said Brown does plan to visit Eastern Oregon in March and will discuss the carbon emissions bill during the visit.
“The governor surely cares about Oregon, I’m never going to say she doesn’t,” Findley said.
In addition to the bill’s potential effects on Ash Grove Cement, Findley contends the bill could result in fuel prices increasing by 30 cents to 50 cents per gallon.
See more in the Feb. 8, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.