The Portland, Oregon, skyline. Image: AP

Oregon and Washington state are both considering bills in their 2018 legislative sessions that would put a price on carbon. If passed, the bills would create a West Coast block, including California and Canada’s British Columbia, of states and provinces that all have a carbon pricing scheme.

“The hope was that we’d have the whole West Coast, but Oregon and Washington got delayed—maybe this is finally the year where they will catch up,” Kristin Eberhard, a senior researcher at Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, told Earther.

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California passed its cap and trade law in 2006, and B.C. passed its own in 2008. Now, Oregon’s legislature is looking at a cap and dividend program called the Clean Energy Jobs bill. It would set a limit on the amount of pollution the state can emit, enforce the cap with permits, and reinvest the revenue from businesses purchasing the permits into Oregon. Meanwhile, Washington is trying to pass a carbon tax on fossil fuels.

Both aim to lower overall carbon emissions, albeit in slightly different ways.

This isn’t the first time carbon pricing legislation has been introduced in these states. In 2016, a carbon tax bill was introduced in Washington, but social justice advocates killed the effort, arguing the legislation was drafted without the input of low-income families or communities of color. In other cases, it’s been Republican lawmakers blocking Democratic efforts at passing carbon pricing legislation.

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Advocates say that this year, the bills working their way through Oregon and Washington state legislatures have a good shot and wide support. Increased Republican support might stem from the realization that the tide of carbon pricing can’t be stopped, Eberhard said.

In the U.S., California and nine states in the Northeast have already put a price on carbon. Four Canadian provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario—have a price on carbon too, and the Canadian government has called for the remaining provinces to come up with their own schemes by the end of 2018.

The European Union and China are doing the same. All together, there are at least 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states, and provinces that use carbon pricing mechanisms. So do nearly 1,400 global firms with combined revenues of $7 trillion, including Disney, Unilever, and Microsoft.

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In Oregon, two similar versions of the Clean Energy Jobs Bill have been introduced into state legislature in February: Senate Bill 1507 and House Bill 4001.

If passed, either bill would put a cap on statewide carbon pollution that would be lowered over time, until Oregon is 80 percent below 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“To enforce the cap, there’ll be a price on every kind of pollution from the largest emitters in the state,” Brad Reed, communications director at Renew Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit supporting Oregon’s transition to a clean energy economy, told Earther.

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The bill specifies that proceeds must be reinvested for the purpose of reducing emissions—for instance in clean energy projects, improved transport systems, or climate resiliency. Proceeds are prioritized for low-income communities, communities of color, rural communities, and those places that have been disadvantaged economically.

“We want to make sure they see the benefit of this legislation first,” Reed said, calling it an effort aimed at environmental justice.

Oregon’s cap and dividend bill was first introduced into state legislature over 10 years ago, and most recently in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Last year, a great deal of progress was made on the bill by lawmakers who worked on it even after the session ended, bringing together diverse stakeholders from business leaders to tribes to health advocates and labor.

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“They all got together into hearing rooms and hammered out the details, so the bill, as far as policy goes, is absolutely ready to go,” said Reed.

Still, the bill’s success isn’t assured with some saying the bill will be too complicated to pass this year, in a short 35-day session.

Meanwhile, Washington state’s carbon tax bill took a key step in the state legislature last week when it passed out of the senate committee on a 6-4 vote, which lawmakers said was a ‘big deal’. The Washington Senate is Republican-controlled, while the House is majority Democrat.

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“I think under the surface of this huge partisanship some Republicans are really starting to see they don’t want the Democrats to be the party of the clean energy future,” Eberhard said. “That’s not a good position for them in the long-term and they’re looking for ways to break out of the crouch they’ve gotten into and be part of the solution—there are some signs of hope.”

Carbon pricing schemes have varied widely in their success. At their best, these schemes are putting a price on something you don’t want—pollution—and using that money for things you want—such as investments in clean energy or lowering other taxes. And while they aren’t going to solve the climate crisis on their own, they could tip the scales towards a cleaner future.

Reed, of Renew Oregon, said that’s exactly what Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill would do.

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“We really think we’ve found a win-win here,” he said. “The cap guarantees that emissions come down, and the reinvestment guarantees that the economy will be lifted up.”