Sunrise Movement PDX members attend last years global youth-led climate strike in downtown Portland.
Sunrise Movement PDX members attend last year's global youth-led climate strike in downtown Portland. blair Stenvick

A bill that would aim to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon is dominating this year’s short legislative session. But while the political dynamic in Salem is mostly focused on Democrats who support the bill and Republicans who oppose it, the bill is also receiving pushback from progressive environmental groups in Portland.

Sunrise Movement PDX—the local chapter of the national youth-led Sunrise Movement, which was responsible for organizing global youth climate strikes last year—is the latest group to announce its opposition to Senate Bill 1530, which would impose a cap-and-trade framework on Oregon industry.

“After a process of community education and debate, Sunrise PDX is formally opposing Cap & Trade/Invest as a strategy to address the climate crisis in Oregon,” Sunrise organizers wrote in a statement shared with the Mercury. “We therefore oppose Senate Bill 1530 and we urge our State Legislature to vote against this policy.”

Under a cap-and-trade framework, the state government places a limit on how much carbon large corporations can emit into the atmosphere each year. The framework also establishes a marketplace of credits, or “allowances,” that companies can purchase in order to emit more carbon than their designated limit.

As the Mercury reported in January, cap-and-trade has faced skepticism on the left from local groups like OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Verde Northwest, and the Center for Sustainable Economy, an environmental policy think tank. Those groups argue that cap-and-trade programs often provide loopholes for the industries most responsible for carbon emissions, and that the policy fails to actually reduce those emissions. They point to a 2019 investigation by ProPublica of California’s cap-and-trade system as one piece of proof for this.

Sunrise’s statement echoes that reasoning, arguing that cap-and-trade will fail to reduce carbon emissions quickly enough to help curb the effects of global warming. They also claim cap-and-trade allows “polluters to maintain or even increase localized pollution if they can purchase enough credits,” and that low-income communities and communities of color often suffer outsize effects of that pollution.

In a press release, Sunrise organizer Mikhaila Bishop says cap-and-trade is flawed because it is “economically, not environmentally, based,” and that its imposed emissions limits are “easy to dance around with enough money.”

“The most crucial turning point in this global moment is the obsolescence of the fossil fuel industry,” Bishop continues. “[Cap-and-trade does] not address the continued injustices perpetuated by this industry.”

Sunrise organizers say they’d like to see Oregon lawmakers instead focus on passing the Oregon Green New Deal—a plan from local environmental groups which would include a moratorium on all new permits and projects that involve fossil fuel—rather than continue to work on cap-and-trade.

You can read Sunrise’s entire statement here.

A similar cap-and-trade bill failed to pass through the legislature last year. It faced conservative opposition so strong that Republicans fled the state in an effort to avoid voting on it, effectively killing the bill. SB 1530, already a tempered version of last year's bill, is also facing pushback from Republicans. Democratic lawmakers are now delaying the bill's progress in an effort to appease their conservative colleagues and prevent another walkout.

Sunrise organizers are clear that they do not see Republicans as allies in the fight against cap-and-trade, and that they respect the work other environmental organizations did to craft SB 1530. But they point to the Republicans’ fierce opposition as a sign that progressive leaders may as well swing for the fences.

“The worst polluters can do is call our position leftist, socialist, and radical,” Sunrise organizer Adam Zahn said in the press release. “However, no matter what our position is, they will use those exact same terms. … It makes no sense to try and compromise in the middle, but rather to own our ideology and political philosophy with pride and propose sincere solutions.”