BAKER CITY — People from both Malheur and Baker counties were pretty much unanimous in their opinions that House Bill 2020, which would implement a carbon reduction program, will push businesses and jobs to Idaho, during testimony given during a hearing conducted by video at the Baker County Fairgrounds Monday evening.
Listening from Salem at the Capitol were members of the Joint Committee of Carbon Reduction, which is conducting several hearings around the state and by video on the bill.
According to a summary of the bill, among its provisions are that it would establish a Carbon Policy Office with a Director of Carbon Policy who will adopt a climate action program by rule, forms a joint committee on climate action and transfers duties of the Department of Environmental Quality to the Carbon Policy Office.
One provision of the bill is to put a cap on greenhouse emissions and create a market-based mechanism for entities to show compliance with the program, known as cap and trade.
In an earlier article in the Argus Observer, Brad Holland, general manager of Campo & Poole Distributing, said the cap is the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions allowed from burning or use of fossil fuel such as gasoline, diesel or natural gas.
The trade side comes when the cap is exceeded and credits are needed to be in place to cover the obligation or debt created by going over the cap, Holland said.
What these credits will cost is unknown, but estimates start at 16 cents a gallon more for fuel and possibly up to $3 per gallon over the next 20 to 25 years.
More than 200 people showed up at the hearing in Baker City, but the room where the hearing was held was only set up to hold about 50 people, but with the standing-room only crowd the actual numbers were 60 to 70 people. The rest of the people were left out in the larger hall, to try and listen to the testimony off of one or two laptops.
While some hearings around the state lasted around two to three hours, the Baker City event was limited to just one hour.
Leading off the testimony, Bill Harney, chairman of the Baker County Commission, said passage of the bill would affect jobs in Baker County, affecting families and communities.
“There is nothing we can find that is good for us,” Harvey said, adding the county can’t afford the bill.
“It’s unfair to people who have no choice [of using types of fuels]”
Ontario Mayor Riley Hill said the city of Ontario and Malheur County are already at a disadvantage to Idaho which has a lower minimum wages, lower tax rates and cap and trade would be just one more disadvantage since Idaho businesses would not have those costs.
“Truck stops will close up and convenience stores will close. Cap and trade will devastate Ontario,” Hill said.
Kenneth Jensen, a farmer from Jamieson, said he has taken several steps on his farm to reduce the carbon footprint, such as no till farming, and farmers need to be given credit for the changes they have made.
Malheur County farmer Kevin Corn said he does not have a lot of options for his farming operations such as harvesting and transportation and small farmers will be hit the hardest if the bill is passed.
“The bill does not reduce carbon… This bill will hurt families,” Corn, said.
Paul Skeen, a Nyssa area farmer and president of the Malheur County onion growers, said, “Oregon is not friendly to agriculture and Idaho is friendly to agriculture.”
Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said the bill could impact 500 jobs in Ontario and people and business would move to Idaho, which is about 1,000 feet away.
Major concern to Baker County, and Malheur County, is the possible loss of the Ash Grove Cement Company operation near Durkee.
Several company representatives and workers spoke at the hearing, saying implementation of House Bill 2020 could increase carbon dioxide emission by about 417,000 tons per year.
The company is the only cement manufacturing plant in Oregon with 116 employees according to a company statement. The majority of the plants emissions come from its procession and currently there are not any know technologies to control them, the statement reads, and House Bill 2020 would put the company at a disadvantage to product being brought in from China.