By Russell Sadler
Oregon joined the states of Washington, California, Arizona and New Mexico in a compact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This ambitious, historic agreement is being ridiculed by some conservatives who argue, ironically, that states just can’t do this job. It should be done by -- wait for it -- the federal government!
The compact "sends a message to Congress and the White House that if they fail to enact policies at the national level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and do our nation's part to combat global warming, that states will do it on their own," Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said.
Let’s hope the federal government continues dragging its feet on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions until the West Coast effort is well underway. Although greenhouse gas emissions are a worldwide problem, some solutions may be regional.
The effort by these five Western States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is likely to be successful because of two important ways we are connected.
The first connection is an interesting demographic fact -- about 75 percent of Americans who live west of Denver, live in a relatively narrow strip about 100 miles wide on either side of Interstate 5. That concentrates the problem wonderfully.
The second connection is the region’s electrical distribution system. The Bonneville Power Administration's North-South Intertie connects the hydroelectric power of Northwest dams and wind farms with the fossil-fuel powerplant complexes in Arizona and New Mexico.
This arrangement allows the seasonal export of Northwest hydropower south in the spring and summer to cool the Southwest and the flow of otherwise idle fossil-fuel generated power north to heat the Northwest in winter. Operating regionally, utilities built fewer fossil-fuel fired generating plants than would be needed if the utilities were operating independently. That is one of the reasons why West Coast carbon emissions have remained nearly flat the last 20 years despite soaring population growth.
Coupled with an aggressive commitment to conservation -- tougher building codes, more energy efficient appliances and industrial processes to stretch existing electricity supplies -- and you have the raw material for a plan that will substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from future electric powerplants.
The five states in the new compact extended an invitation to British Columbia. Wyoming and Montana are considering joining the emission control effort. B.C. Hydro has an enormous hydroelectric generating capacity and sells to the American market. Wyoming and Montana have large mine-mouth fossil-fuel powerplants that sell electricity to the Pacific Northwest and the Southwest. This is attractive arrangement for the cap-and-trade emission control envisioned for the region.
Vehicle exhaust is also one of the largest generators of greenhouse gases in the region. West Coast cities -- San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. and smaller points in between where most of the region’s population lives -- are all prone to thermal inversions that create smog.
The situation in California is so acute and affects so many people that the world’s auto manufacturers all have “California models” to meet that state’s more rigorous emissions standards. As other western states adopt tougher emission standards it will only increase the market for low emission vehicles.
No, this five state compact will not solve the worldwide problem of climate change. But it is a good start in our part of the world. Nine states in the Northeast are already a couple of years ahead of the West Coast in dealing with their fossil fuel-fired powerplants.
These regional compacts are taking potentially effective action now, without waiting for the oil-patch partisans who control the White House or the Southerners in Congress who still really don’t believe there is a problem.
With the federal government’s present leadership, any federal effort to deal with greenhouse gas emissions is likely to morph into an effort by carbon-emitting industries to water down potentially effective regional initiatives by preempting state laws with weaker federal legislation.
After watching the federal government's response to Iraq, nuclear proliferation, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina at home and the Bush administration's penchant for reckless deregulation (from banking and airlines to utilities and communications),it is clear that Washington, D.C. has forfeited any claim to be more competent than the states in dealing with greenhouse gas reduction.
What we see emerging is a series of regional experiments in dealing with a very serious problem that will teach us valuable lessons as some things succeed and some fail. After all, diversity is a good thing.
Editor's Note: As the enviros of the '70s used to say "think globally, act locally." Such a regional approach, if successful, might show us the way in breaking the gridlock on a host of other public policy problems from health care to sustainable growth. In Canada the provinces were the original testing grounds for what eventually became a national health insurance system. Could we learn from that lesson in the USA?
If as some policy wonks argue that the USA is really made up of nine different sub-national regions which share common historical roots, political cultures, demographic characteristics and economic profiles, regionalism might well be the wave of the future. As they say necessity is the mother of invention. As long as federal policy is in the control of the neo-cons there really isn't any choice and time is running out.
By Russell Sadler
A "deal" has been struck in Salem between the Ds and Rs to get a rainy day fund of $250 million dollars. Good for them, just when bi-partisanship seemed dead! As the Oregonian headline said "Legislators, in stunner reach deal on savings." But wait just a minute, Senate GOP Minority Ted Ferrioli (R. John Day) said the "devil is in the details." How right he is, but for all the wrong reasons given Ferrioli's track record as a spending hawk.
Why are we exempting estate taxes up to 2 million dollars? Answer: it's to help farmers and business owners. Well the "deal" already allows small business to keep their corporate kicker. That includes a lot of family businesses and farms. The "deal" also increases the minimum corporate tax from $10 set in 1931 to a sliding scale of $25 dollars to $50,000 depending on how much a company sells in Oregon. That raises another $75 million. Good!
But why should people with rich estates and corporations in Oregon get such lucrative tax breaks? The kicker should never have been grand fathered in after Measure #5 passed in '91. And why should big businesses like NIKE, Intel, Tektronics, PGE and PPL only get hit with a "minimum" tax. The individual taxpayers doesn't get a minimum, they get hammered with an indexed income tax based on their after tax income!
Oregon used to have a unitary tax which taxed the earnings of corporations based on their worldwide earnings. That was ended in the '80s because it made it appear Oregon was hostile to business. OK, so why not levy an indexed (i.e. progressive) corporate income tax on that percentage of wealth generated by corporations attributable to their Oregon sites?
For example, most of the design decisions by NIKE are made in Oregon in its Beaverton headquarters. So why not tax NIKE et al based on the added value of their corporate wealth generated in Oregon? They have value added taxes in Europe, why not here in Oregon? It's time corporate Oregon got off the tax exemption or tax limitation dole. While they are at it, why not get rid of the individual kicker too? That would pump an additional 1 billion into the coffers!
So while this political thaw in Salem is good news, the legislature's work is not done. Celebrating is premature. RAD is sure his taxation mousetrap idea will not fly in the capitol building but that doesn't mean they've done their job yet. Besides, the "deal" hinges on a 2/3s vote in both houses on the kicker bill and a 3/5s vote on the rest of the package. So it's not time to sing "Happy Times are Here Again." It's time for the leadership to deliver...
In a party line vote on Tuesday the Republican minority of Oregon's House defeated a plan to suspend the $275 million dollars from the corporate kicker and put it into a rainy day fund. To suspend the kicker requires a 2/3s vote. The Democratic leadership was unable to get any GOP votes. They needed 9 Rs to pass this bill onto the state Senate. So thanks to the 2/3s vote rule, the minority rules! But the next move is likely to be a vote to approve a ballot measure for a May referendum on this issue. This requires only a majority vote in the House and Senate which the Ds have.
The GOP strategy is very transparent. They want to put the Democrats on record for asking for a tax hike on business in Oregon. This is despite the fact that the business leadership of the state is in favor of kicking the corporate kicker into a rainy day fund. But the GOP thinking on this was made clear by Rep. Tom Butler (R. Ontario), vice chair of the House Revenue Committee who feels that a May vote "...will show us the depth of the win of the Democrats back in November..." The GOP is banking on the voters having buyer's remorse.
The GOP might win this political tug of war. Turnout in off-year special elections is usually very low, in the 40% to 60% range. That normally favors those who oppose money raising measures such as this one. But what may be good politics in the narrow sense, is bad public policy in the long run. A victory by the NO voters against a permanen elimination of the corporate kicker means Oregon will have fewer resources to address the needs of K-12, higher ed, human resources and other programs which have faced cuts over the last 16 years.
The GOP may be underestimating the ability of metro area school advocates to get out a large vote. And if corporate Oregon breaks with the GOP on this issue - the GOP could pay a long term political price by being viewed as out of touch obstructionists. But this early vote in the legislature illustrates the deep political and ideological divisions in Salem. It also underscores the urban/rural divide as well since increasingly Rs are an endangered species in the Metro area, but live and kicking in "the Other" Oregon.
This was also a lost opportunity of the Democratic leadership in the House and the Governor to put together a bi-partisan corporate kicker bill to get things moving in Salem. It certainly won't make life in Salem easier. Next up is probably the 85 cents cigarette tax for kid's health care. Do you want to bet where the lines will be drawn here? And on it goes. So much for the spirit of comity inside the Salem beltway. It's the same old slash and burn zero sum politics. So far this prof's grade for the legislature is an "F". Let's hope the learning curve isn't too steep as the session moves on.
The Oregon legislature is debating a non-binding House Joint Memorial 9 that opposes sending more American troops to Iraq.
At the first hearing yesterday before the House Elections, Ethics and Rules committee there was some tearful testimony by mothers of Iraq vets on both sides of the issue.
The issue is not about supporting the troops who are there. We have been doing that for 3 plus years and even in a phased withdrawal we'll continue to do that.
It's about getting our troops out of harms' way by bringing them home. And as Governor Ted Kulongoski, an ex-Marine, said, "It's about oil."
And in the Middle East the politics of oil means serving the interests of Exxon, Shell, Aramco, BP et al. Supporting the war is not about combating terrorism.
It's all about protecting the misogynist power of Arab sheikdoms, big AmerEuro oil corps and the political ego of a failed Bush presidency.
As IKE warned us in '60, it's all about the military-industrial complex. Our motto should be "no more sons and daughters" for the MIC". Hey George, send the twins!
My Canadian connection has passed along a longish article: THE REDIRECTION - Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism? by SEYMOUR M. HERSH
Here's a tidbit from the article:
SH: “We are not planning for a war with Iran,” Robert Gates, the new Defense Secretary, announced on February 2nd, and yet the atmosphere of confrontation has deepened. According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.
RAD: What's troubling is that an Iran-Contra like operation out of Vice President Cheney's shop has been mounted which sounds very much like the so-called "Enterprise" of the Reagan/Casey era - a clandestine, off the shelf entity with no congressional oversight. If American foreign and military policy becomes privatized beyond the purview of Congress, then look out for the shoe to drop in Iran. For an administration which has little public standing, deep sixing its foreign policy approach will be a high risk policy reminiscent of Nixon's Cambodian Incursion in 1971. But what do they have to lose with two years left?
SH: Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, a Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, told me, “The Bush Administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the Intelligence Committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been ‘Trust us.’ ” Wyden said, “It is hard for me to trust the Administration.”
RAD: As an administration which lied about WMDs, cooked intelligence data and claimed Saddam was getting nukes from Niger, what's stopping them in a moment of desperation from going ballistic against Iran? With the distraction of the '08 election campaign, the Bush/Cheney/Rice team have a perfect cover.
Maybe those bumper stickers which scream - "Impeach Cheney First" - have a point!