Author: Cascade Policy Institute

Portland’s toxic taxes will do little for clean air-cm

Portland’s toxic taxes will do little for clean air

By Rachel Dawson

In the middle of a worldwide pandemic that has decimated local businesses, Portland is proposing millions of dollars in new taxes. Officials recently announced a new proposal called “Clean Air, Healthy Climate” that would impose two separate carbon taxes on large stationary emitters as early as this month.

Portland facilities that produce 2,500 metric tons of carbon or more each year would be charged a “Healthy Climate Fee” of $25 per carbon ton. Approximately 35 Portland area facilities such as Daimler would be required to pay the fee with a minimum charge of $62,500. Officials estimate the fee will generate around $9 million dollars that would fund programs and projects “to meet the City’s decarbonization pathways.” This includes paying for engagement with specified organizations and vulnerable populations, commercial and residential building retrofits, and EV infrastructure, among other things. While these programs seem highly ambitious, specific details and outcomes remain vague or undetermined.

A separate “Clean Air Protection Fee” would apply a tiered fee of up to $40,000 on major facilities generating “substantial hazardous air pollution locally and are therefore required to hold …Air Contaminant Discharge Permits, or Title V Permits.” In 2019 a total of 72 Portland facilities held these specified permits.

The City estimates the Clean Air Protection Fee would bring in around $2 million annually in revenue. That revenue would be used for investments in “pollution reduction programs” with a focus on vulnerable and marginalized communities. Such investments duplicate current pollution reduction programs such as the Portland Clean Energy Fund and the Energy Trust of Oregon.

The City claims the taxes are needed because county data suggest the region is not meeting its self-imposed greenhouse gas reduction goals. Multnomah County data from 2018 show total GHG emissions were reduced 19% below 1990 levels. Portland claims this is “far short of the City’s goal to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2030.” Aside from the fact that there is a mismatch between Multnomah County and Portland area boundaries, the 19% statistic does not tell the whole story.

While Multnomah County emissions have gone down by 19% since 1990, the county’s population level has increased by 39%. Thus, GHG emissions per capita actually have decreased by 42%, a remarkable achievement.

However, these taxes won’t be imposed on the entire population. Only major stationary emitters, such as industrial facilities, will be required to pay them. And since 1990, industrial facilities in Portland have done more than their fair share in reducing GHG emissions. Between 1990 and 2018 total industrial emissions in Multnomah County have decreased by 51% and industrial emissions per capita have gone down by 65%. Instead of punishing industrial facilities by imposing additional fees, Portland officials should be celebrating their success.

In fact, when industrial emissions are taken out of the equation, total Multnomah County emissions have only gone down by 10% since 1990.

These taxes come at a time when many businesses are struggling to keep their doors open and staff employed. Over the past year, Oregon has lost 16,700 manufacturing jobs. As of August, Precision Castparts eliminated 10,000 jobs worldwide due to the Coronavirus, 717 of which were located in the Portland Metro area. Despite the company’s struggle to keep workers on its payroll, Portland’s proposed carbon fee would cost Precision Castparts an estimated $629,494 annually. The company has stated that “significant tax or fee increases would factor into future decisions related to our operations in Portland.”

Additionally, Evraz North America, a global steel company, would pay over $2.7 million annually. Evraz has already cut around half of its Portland area employees since last year.

Instead of fighting climate change, this tax may end up costing Portlanders their jobs.

Other eligible employers include many major hospitals such as Oregon Health & Sciences University, Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center, and Providence Portland Medical Center.

Officials should be supporting businesses hard hit by the pandemic and recession, not taxing them into layoffs. These two carbon taxes will punish a sector that is already making great strides in lowering GHG emissions. Since total industry GHG emissions have decreased to 51% below 1990 levels, the industry sector by itself has already surpassed Portland’s GHG reduction goal. The City of Portland should immediately halt all current and future work on this proposal.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Oregon ratepayers need relief. Ending the Public Purpose Charge can help-cm

Oregon ratepayers need relief. Ending the Public Purpose Charge can help.

By Rachel Dawson

As government-imposed shutdowns continue, more Oregonians are struggling to pay their electricity bills. Portland General Electric reported in June that arrears (when payment is 31 days past due or more) were up 41% compared to the same time last year. Economic hardship likely will persist for many people long after the COVID-19 vaccine is distributed.

It’s clear that Oregon ratepayers need relief. One way for legislators to provide such relief would be to eliminate the Public Purpose Charge (PPC) energy tax, or to allow Oregonians to opt out of it.

This 3% tax has been paid by PGE and PacifiCorp ratepayers since 2002. It was originally intended to last 10 years to help fund energy conservation and to subsidize the renewable energy industry until it became market competitive. The PPC has since been extended to 2026.

A recent Cascade Policy Institute report found the PPC’s ten-year mission has been met and recommends the tax should not be further extended. Just as intended, the most cost-effective programs were completed in the early years of the tax, leading to a 73% increase in costs per unit of energy saved. The cost of installing solar has decreased 76% between 1999 and 2019. Thus, it appears the solar industry no longer needs PPC subsidies to be market competitive.

Ending the PPC is long overdue. And doing this during a recession would be a great way to immediately aid many struggling Oregonians.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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TriMet Zombie Light Rail Project-cm

TriMet’s Zombie Light Rail Project

By John A. Charles, Jr.

President Trump is not the only one refusing to accept election results. The general manager of TriMet, Doug Kelsey, is claiming that the $3 billion Tigard light rail project is still alive, even though Portland-area voters rejected a proposed funding measure by a wide margin last month.

 At a recent public meeting, Mr. Kelsey stated that Tigard light rail would be built eventually because “demand still exists.”

That is a complete fantasy. Peak-hour ridership on all MAX lines during October was down 72% from a year ago. Unlike driving levels, which have nearly returned to normal, transit ridership has remained depressed over the past 9 months. Transit riders have simply moved on to other options.

Rail transit in particular requires high levels of both residential and worker density, but COVID has induced a mass exodus of workers from downtown Portland. Many of these changes will become permanent. Employers have discovered that remote working is not only feasible, it’s preferred by many employees.

Where is the value proposition for a network of slow trains to the city center if few people need to go there?

The TriMet board should start downsizing the agency immediately, and the easiest first step would be to cancel a rail line that doesn’t yet exist.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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Shopping in a Shutdown How to Support Local Businesses-cm

Shopping in a Shutdown: How to Support Local Businesses

By Helen Doran

The Oregonian reported that an estimated 51,000 more Oregonians are expected to lose their jobs because of Governor Brown’s new state-wide freeze. To make matters worse, almost 70,000 Oregonians could lose their unemployment benefits the day after Christmas when the program for self-employed workers and an extended benefit program expire.

There is hope for small businesses. According to an Adobe survey, small businesses in the United States could expect a +107% boost in revenue for the season. In fact, 51% of shoppers plan to support small and local businesses on Small Business Saturday, and 38% of shoppers “will make a deliberate effort to shop at smaller retailers throughout the holiday season.”

Despite the governor’s freeze on many activities, entrepreneurs have found creative ways to provide support for Oregon businesses during the holiday season. Small businesses that are not equipped to make a profit online are provided an outlet through such non-profits as Built Oregon, which provides vendors a shared online marketplace to showcase their products. In true Oregonian spirit, you can buy anything from Willamette Valley wines to bamboo toothbrushes and leather toolkits.

Gyms have been shut down entirely during the governor’s winter freeze. But that hasn’t stopped gyms like Fulcrum Fitness, which has gone completely virtual with its workouts for customers.

Restaurants have suffered extraordinarily from the pandemic, and with the new freeze, some restaurants and bars are planning to close temporarily rather than switch to delivery and takeout. Others are hoping the holiday spirit will provide them a much needed boost. Andina’s in Portland offered a take-out Thanksgiving dinner for those not partial to imitating Gordan Ramsey in the kitchen. Bars like the Botanist House also provided beer, wine, and cider to-go the day before Thanksgiving.

Even the local arts community has found creative ways to share its passion. The youth orchestra, Metropolitan Youth Symphony, will be celebrating holiday music from around the world through a creative use of online tickets and YouTube. The local ballet company, Oregon Ballet Theatre, is reimagining its annual Nutcracker through a televised format on OBTV. Clearly, in the middle of a turbulent year, Oregon businesses’ innovation and creativity shine through, despite the heavy weight of lockdowns and restrictions. Even so, the next few months will be critical for many local businesses. Oregonians should rally behind their local businesses this holiday season. That might be the Christmas miracle we all need.

Helen Doran is the Program Assistant, External Affairs at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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Wind turbines are not a birds best friend-cm

Wind turbines are not a bird’s best friend. Black paint may be able to help.

By Rachel Dawson

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates up to 500,000 birds are killed annually in the United States due to wind turbine collisions. The number of deaths will continue to increase as more turbines populate our nation’s landscape.

Raptors are especially vulnerable to colliding with wind turbines due to their flight patterns. They typically soar during high winds, bringing them in line with spinning turbines that appear to them as nothing more than a blur.

The first wind farm to formally ask the Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to harm golden eagles is located right here in Central Oregon. The Obama Administration later passed a rule allowing energy companies to apply for 30-year permits for any “non-intentional eagle deaths at wind farms.”

However, Norwegian researchers may have a simple solution to save their lives.

Dr. Roel May from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research presented a decade-long study to the Oregon House Committee on Natural Resources earlier this year about how black paint could minimize fatalities.

Researchers painted one turbine blade black, reducing the “motion smear” that makes it difficult for birds to see the spinning blades. The result was an astonishing 71% decrease in collisions. Wind farms should not get a free pass to kill a protected species. However, if the government continues to turn a blind eye, wind farms should at least consider the results of this study and paint turbine blades black to save our birds.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Oregons new drug law contains a lethal dose of unaccountability-cm

Oregon’s New Drug Law Contains a Lethal Dose of Unaccountability

Voters approve Measure 110, decriminalizing drugs while creating an unaccountable bureaucracy

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

Oregon voters recently approved a ballot measure that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of “hard” drugs, including heroin, cocaine, LSD, and methamphetamine. Supporters see the measure as a big step toward ending the failed 50-year “War on Drugs.” Opponents fear the measure will lead to widespread and rampant drug abuse and turn the state into a destination for narco-tourism. While drug decriminalization made news headlines, the media missed the fact that Measure 110 is a head-on attack on our democratic institutions.

The measure creates a new bureaucratic agency to be known as the “Oversight and Accountability Council.” Despite its name, the council has neither accountability nor oversight. The council is appointed by an unelected bureaucrat, answers to no one, and is guaranteed funding outside the legislative budget process. In other words, with Measure 110, Oregon voters just created an agency that doesn’t have to answer to voters or elected officials.

The Oversight and Accountability Council awards grants to government agencies and community-based nonprofits who will create “Addiction Recovery Centers.” These centers will address the acute and ongoing needs of drug users, provide “intensive” case management, and link drug users to care. All of these services are to be provided free-of-charge to drug users. Put simply, Measure 110 asserts a right to free health care for those with substance abuse issues. The council also awards grants to government agencies and nonprofits to provide housing and peer support to people with substance use disorder. Not only does the council award the grants, but it also writes the rules governing the grants, establishes the requirements for the Addiction Recovery Centers, and oversees their implementation. This Oversight and Accountability Council has enormous authority and will be handling at least $57 million a year, in addition to an undefined amount related to state savings from reduced arrests and convictions.

The 17-member council will be “established” by the director of the Oregon Health Authority, an unelected agency head appointed by the governor. Each member serves a four-year term. Measure 110 does not specify any conditions under which a council member can be removed and provides no process for removing a member. While the governor can be voted out and the OHA director can be fired, Oversight and Accountability Council members face no risk of removal. In this way the council is accountable to no one.

Funding for the Oversight and Accountability Council and its grants will come from the state’s marijuana tax. The measure specifies that this will be at least $57 million the first year that the measure is in effect, 2021. The measure also provides for yearly increases in line with inflation or increases in marijuana tax revenues, whichever is larger. With a dedicated and guaranteed source of funding, Measure 110 bypasses the legislative budget process. While schools, universities, police, and transportation must go to the legislature for most of their funding, the Oversight and Accountability Council sits comfortably on a steadily increasing revenue stream.

Measure 110 won by a wide margin, because the headlines promised it would decriminalize drug possession. With no organized opposition and press that cheered it on, the nefarious details of the measure never got their own headlines. As a result, Oregon voters approved the creation of a huge new bureaucracy that is unaccountable to voters and elected officials and disconnected from the same budget pressures faced by nearly every other state agency. The Washington Post tells us “democracy dies in darkness.” It also dies from voter approval of misleading ballot measures.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He served on the City Club of Portland’s research committee on substance use disorder in Oregon.

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New Oregon data shows where electric vehicles are located and where they continue to remain a rarity-cm

Dude, where’s my car? New Oregon data shows where electric vehicles are located and where they continue to remain a rarity

By Rachel Dawson

Where are all the electric cars in Oregon? If you live in Portland, they’re hard to miss. But leave the metro area, and EVs are a rare sight. To get an idea, check out the Oregon Department of Energy’s new interactive EV dashboard. The dashboard tracks EV purchases by county and model.

The dashboard clearly shows that Oregon’s wealthy and urban counties are benefiting most from subsidies for a costly technology that remains out of reach for many Oregonians. Rather than letting the market operate freely, Oregon officials and utilities alike are attempting to push more consumers towards purchasing EVs by offering taxpayer funded rebates.

Total Number of Electric Vehicles by County

Where are those subsidies going? Nationally, around 60% of EV buyers have six-figure incomes. About half are aged 25 to 55, and 75% are male.

At the state level, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) offers a “Clean Vehicle Rebate” program and a “Charge Ahead Rebate” program that provides up to $2,500 for the purchase or lease of a new qualifying EV with an additional $2,500 for Oregonians with low or moderate incomes for either a new or used EV. However, low-income Oregonians can only receive both rebates if they purchase a brand new EV. DEQ receives $12 million annually to fund these programs from a vehicle privilege tax imposed on car dealers throughout the state. In other words, someone purchasing a traditional gas power car is helping pay for someone else’s EV purchase.

On top of that, the federal government offers a tax credit for all new EVs and hybrids up to $7,500, depending on the model. Additionally, many Oregon utilities offer monetary incentives for EVs and charging infrastructure. For example, the Emerald People’s Utility District (PUD) offers a $100 incentive for customers registering new or used EVs, while the Central Lincoln PUD offers customers a $250 rebate for purchasing a level 2 EV charger.

Of the 31,977 EVs in Oregon, around 64% (or 20,559 vehicles) are located in the Portland area. One could argue that more EVs are in the Portland metro area due to its larger population size. However, data from ODOE’s own dashboard shows that EV adoption grows as a county’s wealth increases even when accounting for population size.

Further, the most commonly purchased EV is a Tesla, which accounts for around 27% of all EVs registered in Oregon. The vast majority of these, around 70%, are registered in the Portland area. You certainly won’t see a Tesla driving around Harney, Morrow, or Wheeler counties in Eastern Oregon.

This is likely because in addition to being costly, current EV technology faces difficulties with range and cold temperatures. The vehicles use lithium-ion batteries which are sensitive to temperature changes. Cold temperatures can cut their range by up to one-third. These issues make EVs a suitable option for warm, urban areas—a big reason why the largest markets for EVs in the US can be found in California, Texas, and Florida. However, EVs may experience difficulties during Eastern Oregon’s cold winters.

David Larson, Jaguar Land Rover’s general manager of product development, told ABC news that EVs “still cost a lot more than ICE [internal combustion engine] cars and charging takes a long time…. For a rancher in Montana, EVs are not the solution. These cars are for people who live in urban areas and don’t travel more than 100 miles or more a week.”

As car companies continue to innovate, the cost of EVs will likely continue to fall while EV registrations increase without additional government pressure. People should be free to make the decision to purchase an EV using their own hard-earned money. However, the state should not be using tax dollars, especially from rural and low-income Oregonians, to subsidize their cost.

The privilege tax does not bring the state together. Rather, it illuminates the existing rural and urban divide. If Governor Brown were truly committed to equity, she would repeal this divisive privilege tax.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. She can be reached at rachel@cascadepolicy.org

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The Boardman Coal Plant Closed. Now What-cm

The Boardman Coal Plant Closed. Now What?

By Rachel Dawson

On Thursday, October 15, Portland General Electric pulled the plug on the Boardman Coal Plant, PGE’s largest power plant. Boardman had a nameplate capacity of 550 firm megawatts of power and was decommissioned 20 years prematurely.

While environmentalists celebrate the plant’s closure, utility executives are still trying to figure out how they will keep the lights on in our region.

That’s because the more coal plants our region removes from the grid, the more likely we are to experience future blackouts. Multiple studies from groups like the Northwest Power Pool, E3, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council all reached the same conclusion: Our region will have a shortage of power by the mid-2020s that could lead to blackouts and extreme price volatility.

Curious about what this would look like? Look no further than California. In August, the state experienced rolling blackouts as it leaned too heavily on imports and didn’t have enough of its own firm power.

Our utilities aren’t far behind. Large Northwest utilities plan on investing in wind, solar, batteries, and—like California—market purchases. To avoid California’s same fate, our utilities and officials need to acknowledge that an intermittent resource powered grid is not a reliable or an affordable grid. Instead of celebrating Boardman’s closure, they should invest in firm power sources like natural gas and clean nuclear power.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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Emancipate the students-cm

Emancipate the Students

By John A. Charles, Jr.

The state legislature is seeking policy proposals for “equity in education.” Here’s an idea: how about a money-back guarantee for public schools?

The K-12 system is based on the assumption that all students should attend neighborhood public schools. Even in the best of times, that wasn’t working for many families. Now the assigned schools aren’t even open; the governor has mandated online learning.

Virtual education has some benefits, but also imposes new costs for parents. They are now part of the educational workforce, except they’re not getting compensated.

There is a solution. School districts are funded from three primary sources: the state school fund, the federal government, and local property taxes. The state share alone averages about $10,000 per student annually. The legislature should offer parents a refund of the $10,000 if they leave the public school system. This would instantly make the departing families better off, while reducing crowded conditions for those students who remain. With fewer students, it would be easier for public schools to restore classroom education. Everyone wins. One system cannot satisfy all needs. The best way to give families more options is to provide them with the equivalent of a Food Stamp card upon request, and let them swipe it for the instructional services they need.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market public policy research organization.

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Pinocchio politics on the november ballot-cm

Pinocchio Politics on the November Ballot

By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.

President Trump is frequently accused of lying. But he doesn’t have a monopoly on falsehood. Look around the Portland region and you’ll see our local politicians lying to us. We live in our own Pinocchio-land.

Metro’s “Get Moving 2020” ballot measure is a $5.2 billion tax increase disguised as a transportation measure. It’s a permanent tax on the total compensation paid by every private business and nonprofit with more than 25 employees. Metro says it’s a payroll tax, but it’s much more. It will tax every dollar you earn — even the money you save for retirement.

Comedian John Oliver says, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” And, that’s what Portland City Council has done with a major charter change packaged as some minor housekeeping.

Portland says the amendment merely clarifies the charter. In reality, the amendment will open a spending tap with water customers on the hook for ever rising water bills.

Portland Public Schools deserves its own wing in the Hall of Pinocchios. PPS put a $1.2 billion bond measure on the November ballot. About $200 million of the new money will be used to fill cost overruns on the projects funded by the 2017 bond.

How did PPS run $200 million over budget? Simple: PPS lied to us. The school board intentionally low-balled cost estimates to fool voters into approving the measure.

This year, voters must put an end to the billions of dollars of fibs our local politicians are telling. Pinocchio learned his lesson about lying; it’s time for our politicians to learn theirs.

Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.

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The nuclear waste reality that popular media loves to ignore-cm

The nuclear waste reality that popular media loves to ignore

By Rachel Dawson

Did you ever watch the Simpsons and think nuclear waste from utility plants looked like glowing green goo oozing out of cans?

If you answered yes, you might be the victim of media propaganda. The waste produced by utility nuclear power plants is not a leaking green goo. In fact, it’s not capable of leaking at all as nuclear waste is a solid metal rod (better known as a spent fuel rod) instead of the green ooze many associate it with.

These misconceptions are important to dispel as potential future power shortages along with increased clean power mandates make having a clean and reliable baseload power source like nuclear increasingly important.

In reality, nuclear fuel is made up of multiple ceramic pellets stacked vertically in long metal tubes. The resulting waste looks no different and actually has the “consistency of a teacup.”

(United State Nuclear Regulatory Commission Photo)

Nuclear spent fuel remains radioactive for thousands of years. But the idea that it will one day be unearthed and “spilled” across green pastures and waterways is a scenario based more on science fiction than reality.

For one, spent fuel is never left exposed. The spent fuel rods are kept underwater for up to eight years (in what are known as spent fuel pools) “until the radiation levels decay to levels that can be cooled without water.”

From there, the spent fuel is either recycled or placed in large concrete canisters, known as dry casks, and stored underground. This step is where the United States differs from France, where nuclear energy makes up 71.7% of electricity generation.

Recycling spent fuel is the most efficient way to manage nuclear waste. Spent fuel contains over 90% uranium, which is usable fuel. Recycling spent fuel allows one to draw out more energy from the fuel, have less remaining nuclear waste, and convert the waste into immobilized chemical forms. France, for example, embeds its remaining nuclear waste in vitrified borosilicate glass.

However, it is currently illegal to do so in the United States. President Jimmy Carter prohibited recycling nuclear spent fuel in 1977 during the Cold War due to fears that it would be used to create nuclear weapons and concerns that it was not cost-effective. This left us with the remaining option of burying our country’s spent fuel in the ground.

In the 43 years since President Carter made this decision, multiple nations around the world, including France, Japan, and Great Britain, have all chosen to recycle their spent fuel without the proliferation of nuclear weapons officials were concerned would be correlated with it.

NuScale Power, an Oregon based company developing small-modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), claims to have more modern recycling technology than France, but is unable to take any action here in the United States.

Additionally, nuclear waste is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be, so long as it remains enclosed. There have been no recorded injuries or deaths caused by the commercial nuclear waste contained in dry casks.

Nuclear waste is the only energy resource byproduct that doesn’t make it into the environment, as it is completely contained. Environmentalists should be more concerned with wind and solar technology, which sends used wind turbines and solar panels to landfills after they’re retired.

Oregon passed a moratorium on building new nuclear plants in 1980 until the nuclear waste problem was solved. Perhaps our legislators were watching too many cartoons when the moratorium was passed, as burying spent fuel in dry casks has a track record for being safe and does not adversely affect the environment.

No energy source is perfect. But by utilizing improved safety technology and recycling spent fuel, nuclear energy can come pretty darn close. Oregon legislators should work to relegalize nuclear power in our state as future coal closures will cause our region to lose thousands of megawatts of reliable power “which may result in both extreme price volatility and unacceptable loss-of-load, or blackouts.” Doing so will allow our state to meet clean energy mandates while ensuring the lights are kept on when we need them most.

Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at the Portland-based Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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