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Solution From 1787 Could Save Oregon Cap-and-Trade

January 17th, 2020 by dk

Lawmakers in Salem are struggling to rewrite Oregon’s version of a cap-and-trade program in time for their short session, which begins in two weeks. HB2020 was designed to reduce statewide emissions. Instead, it led to Republicans boycotting Salem and not returning until they were assured the bill was dead.

It’s beginning to look like that could happen again. The draft form that’s currently known as Legislative Concept 19, proposes sweeping changes that will affect millions of people. If there’s a path to legislative consensus, it has so far eluded them.

It’s during times like this, when the future is unclear, that I find history to be most useful. The revolt of sparsely populated areas against urban elites is not new to us. It’s one of the strongest strands of our heritage. Lessons learned centuries ago can be applied today.

Delegates gathered in Philadelphia to write our Constitution in 1787. Alignments quickly formed with a widening gulf between. Less populated states supported the New Jersey Plan, where each state would get a single vote. More populated states preferred the Virginia Plan, with votes apportioned by population.

Roger Sherman bridged the gap on June 29, 1787. It was immediately hailed as The Great Compromise. From his language came our bicameral Congress. It created a system where every citizen is equal, but every state is also equal. It was a brilliant solution that pleased everyone.

We can quickly adapt Sherman’s insight to reshape our cap-and-trade program in a way that affirms everything we love about Oregon. We love our people. We also love our land. Every citizen is equal, but every county is also equal.

The LC19 rewrite has already divided the state into three large areas, proposing to delay implementation of many aspects of the program for rural areas, but it hasn’t won over any Republicans so far. (Support from two Republicans would gain the Oregon Senate its required two-thirds supermajority to prevent a walkout.)

If we’ve learned anything since 1787, it’s that money moves people quickly.

LC19 envisions all sorts of fees to be collected by the state. As truckers and manufacturers see their costs rise, it’ll raise prices for consumers. It’s those “price signals” that will drive behavioral changes in response to climate change. All Oregonians will pay those increased costs equally, but rural Oregonians fear their pain will be felt more acutely.

Here comes the counterintuitive part. Increase every fee written into LC19 by 10 percent. Then rebate every penny of those additional funds to Oregon’s 36 counties — equally. Wheeler County (population 1,430) will receive a windfall, where support for LC19 is currently low. Multnomah County (population 811,880) will barely notice the rebate, but support for LC19 is already running sky high around Portland. County commissioners will be free to spend the money however they think best for their residents.

This compromise does not enhance the cap-and-trade program itself, except to make it politically viable. With great humility, our leaders should move to gain consensus across the state. This legislation needs both good policy and good politics to become genuinely effective.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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