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A failed experiment

My family has been farming in Jackson County for 59 years. Our connection to the land and community in which we live runs deep. Farmers are the original environmentalists. We manage our fields and pasture to last for generations and guarding against overdevelopment. But some Oregon lawmakers are drafting an environmental proposal called “cap and trade” that seeks to squeeze farmers and families by artificially raising energy prices for electricity and gas. Already a failed experiment in California, the evidence is overwhelming that it won’t work — and our state lawmakers should reject it.

Cap and trade is a scheme that charges Oregonians a tax for emitting greenhouse gases. The tax itself can be raised by unelected bureaucrats without a vote of the Oregon State Legislature, and the money would go to fund all types of political pet projects. Worse, Oregon’s rural communities will be disproportionately impacted. Since cap and trade would increase the price of gas, those of us who drive more will pay more. It’s also going to increase the price of electricity and natural gas that we all use to power and heat our homes. An economic analysis estimated that a typical Oregon family would pay $500 to $1,500 more per year in increased costs, depending on where in the state they live.

Cap and trade will also reduce good-paying blue collar manufacturing jobs. California’s electricity rates for manufacturers are 86 percent above the national average, a key reason why their manufacturing job growth has been half the national average for a decade. These are the type of jobs essential to rural communities. Why would we want to follow California down this path?

Farming and ranching is a tough business, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to what we can charge for our products. If gas and diesel costs go up by 16 cents per gallon, as estimated under cap and trade, our products will be less competitive with other states and countries. We could raise the price of food for families, but that’s not always an option. 80 percent of what Oregon farmers grow leaves the state, and we’re competing against other farmers who don’t have cap and trade costs. So, they’d be able to undercut our prices. It’s hard enough for Oregon family farms to compete today, and cap and trade would make it all that much harder.

Perhaps the irony with cap and trade is that there’s no evidence it actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions. California officials have made clear that cap and trade played a very minor role in reducing their emissions. In fact, Oregon’s emissions have been going down at a faster rate than California’s, and we’ve done it without cap and trade. Additionally, Oregon recently adopted new laws to combat greenhouse gas emissions by increasing renewable energy and lowering the carbon intensity of gasoline. These new laws haven’t even been implemented yet. Shouldn’t we give them a chance to work?

Oregon has one of the cleanest economies in the country, emitting a mere 0.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. As a state, we’ve shown tremendous leadership in protecting our environment. Cap and trade is just a big, expensive program designed to raise money for government, not reduce emissions. Lawmakers who care about rural communities and effective environmental policies should reject it.

Ron Bjork is a cattle and hay farmer in Eagle Point.