LESSON 1: It’s risky for Oregon to act alone.
Oregon businesses pride themselves on the voluntary steps they’ve taken to become green. But when it comes to new environmental regulations, business gets nervous.
|James Piro, president and CEO,
Portland General Electric
James Piro, president and CEO of Portland General Electric, says PGE’s investments in wind and solar energy projects have the utility on track to obtain 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025 — as required by state law. To recognize the costs to the planet of carbon emissions, PGE includes a carbon price in its internal calculations when comparing fossil fuels to other energy sources. Piro says his company is a national leader on green issues. Yet he opposes the idea of new regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions — especially if Oregon acts alone.
“We are making the right decisions already,” Piro says. “I’m not a proponent of any type of carbon pricing. All it would do is raise prices for consumers without changing results. They are already paying a higher price for the product they buy because we have made it greener.” Piro believes that Oregon-specific or Western-U.S. climate regulations would put businesses in the region at a competitive disadvantage. “We are especially not a proponent of local carbon pricing. If it’s going to be done, it has to be national.”
Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association, likewise worries that new regulations could do more economic harm than environmental good. His nonpartisan statewide business group advocates for 500 companies spread across Oregon; recent priorities have included boosting academic achievement to improve the workforce and investing in transportation infrastructure.
|Ryan Deckert, president,
Oregon Business Association
“Precision Castparts, Blount, Greenbrier — companies like these are at the core of the middle-class economy in Oregon,” Deckert says. “Let’s keep our eye on the ball, ensuring that good decisions are made for their growth.” In 2013 Precision Castparts ranked No. 1 on a University of Massachusetts list of the nation’s most toxic polluters, but the company also employs more than 2,300 people in Portland. Deckert is wary that too much regulation could chase away employers like these “to the extent that 100, 200 jobs leave Oregon because Daimler can more profitably do things in North Carolina.”
Sandra McDonough, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, sees an appropriate role for environmental regulations but opposes region-by-region legislation. “We would be concerned about practices that are Portland specific,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense for businesses in Portland to face costs and regulations that other businesses don’t. Businesses would not want to locate here, because cost is a factor in decisions they make.”
McDonough, Deckert and others do argue that global and national action are needed to successfully address climate change. They celebrate Oregon’s status as a green leader but oppose state-specific regulations aimed at addressing global environmental challenges. Even the governor, recognized for his support of environmental legislation — seems caught by this tension. “It is important that we be able to show that the quality of our air and the quality of our water is improving, and that we continue to find ways to build on our clean-economy successes to date,” Kitzhaber says. But in his second term, the governor’s environmental priorities have often taken a backseat to health care and education. And beyond opposing Pacific Northwest coal exports and advocating for clean fuels, he has focused on broader collaborations, such as the Pacific Coast Action Plan, an agreement signed last year by four governors to put a price on carbon emissions and promote clean energy.