Oregon’s first in the nation anti-coal law: The pros and cons

Advocates of the anti-coal law say it creates a new path to cleaner energy. Opponents say it will cost an additional $190 per person each year.

Kristena Hansen/AP
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, center, signs one of the nation's most aggressive pieces of pro-climate legislation into law, surrounded by students at a Portland elementary school that is powered by solar panels in Portland. Next to Brown, on the right is Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson, who helped sponsor the bill, and House Speaker Tina Kotek. The measure signed on Friday makes Oregon the first state to eliminate coal from its energy supply by legislation, which will happen in phases through 2030.

Oregon aims to phase out the the reliance on coal fired plants by 2030.

Gov. Kate Brown signed into law legislation that would eliminate coal-generated energy, making Oregon the first state to do so. Backed by two of the largest energy companies in the state, the law requires utilities to source half of the energy from renewables such as solar and wind by 2040, the Associated Press reported.

"Knowing how important it is to Oregonians to act on climate change, a wide range of stakeholders came to the table around Oregonians’ investments in coal and renewable energy," said Governor Brown, according The Oregonian. "Working together, they found a path to best equip our state with the energy resource mix of the future. Now, Oregon will be less reliant on fossil fuels and shift our focus to clean energy. I’m proud to sign a bill that moves Oregon forward, together with the shared values of current and future generations."

While it had its advocates, the legislation was highly contested, passing by a 38-20 vote in the state assembly before it was signed into law. Opponents said it would cost every resident $190 per year in additional energy charges.

Advocates of phasing out coal have long argued that while coal has been a cheaper source of energy compared to natural gas and other sources, it's worse for the environment. Backed by research – such as the 2013 MIT study attributing 50,000 premature deaths to coal-power plants – advocates championing the Oregon legislation said the measure would significantly reduce air pollution, and reduce the negative effects on the environment.

"Through the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Bill, Oregon has the opportunity to become a national leader," said Carrie Nyssen, Regional Director, American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific, according to a press release. “By transitioning away from a dirty, antiquated form of energy and embracing clean, renewable energy, this bill is a win-win for public health and the environment."

"Coal costs us all – it's hurting our climate, our economy, and our communities," said Doug Moore, OLCV Executive Director, "Oregonians want clean energy, not dirty coal, and this is a day our community will remember."

Opponents of the legislation cite higher electricity costs, and argue that the reduction of carbon emissions as presented by advocates are overplayed.

"Today, Gov. Brown gave her stamp of approval to a new renewable energy mandate that will cost residential electricity customers in Oregon $190 more each year until 2040," said state Senate Republican Minority Leader Ted Ferriol, according to the Associated Press.

"Oregonians are being sold a bill of goods with claims that this new mandate will reduce carbon emissions, when in reality we will see no improvement in pollution from emissions.”

Last year the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity started a hashtag #ColdInTheDark, claiming that EPA regulations on coal would drive people into the cold.

"When East Coast Americans receive their second or third consecutive $400 gas bill, they will take notice," wrote Chris Prandoni, director of energy and environment policy at Americans for Tax Reform, and contributor at Forbes. "During the next cold snap, when Americans foot an even larger gas bill once natural gas plants replace 300 coal power plants, they will be livid. The worst part is, this consumer pain and reliability anxiety is largely self-induced, or more accurately, EPA induced.

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