Four Carbon Cap-Tax Hybrids

Getting creative with carbon limits (Part 1).
This post is 17 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

A tax and a cap are just different vehicles for delivering the same thing: a carbon price that holds polluters responsible for their pollution, drives the transition to clean energy, and staves off the worst risks of climate volatility. With a tax, you know the price in advance but not the quantity of carbon pollution per year; with a cap, you know the carbon but not the price.

Could Oregon and Washington create a cap-tax hybrid that is custom-made for the Pacific Northwest’s unique circumstances, culture, and economy? Northwesterners are down-to-earth and pragmatic, resilient through changing conditions. A Northwestern climate policy should be the same: taking the best aspects of what has come before (BC’s tax and California’s cap) and hybridizing them into a robust policy that can ride out the rainy days.

This article, the first of three about variations on carbon pricing, describes not just one but four cap-tax hybrids that could fit the Northwest like a fleece vest. Read more »

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Weekend Reading 10/24/14

A "subdivide" suggestion, getting at "the good life," and more.
This post is 177 in the series: Weekend Reading


A passionate and surprisingly plausible argument that “douchebag” is that unheard of epithets: a slur used to delegitimize white males.

Affordable owner-occupied housing inside city limits? Hard to come by in Cascadia’s big cities, especially in Vancouver, BC, where bungalows commonly list for $1.2 million. But what if we allowed divided ownership in single-family zones? Patrick Condon dares speak the “subdivide” word in The Tyee.

Split that average home into smaller more affordable parts. Currently subdividing homes into separate ownerships is prohibited in RS-1 zoned areas, and RS-1 zoning covers over 60 per cent of all residential lands in the city. But if you could split a single family bungalow in Killarney or Dunbar into five units of various sizes, the purchase price would be, in simplified terms, $250,000. A figure much more approachable for families earning the average wage.


I made a video about how pursuing human well-being, rather than stuff, can make us happier and also avoid global catastrophe. Yay!

Sometimes I wish Elon Musk would expend more of his brilliance on helping us get our act together here on earth instead of trying to colonize Mars. More of his brain and money on Tesla type moon shots, less on actual Mars shots. But I respect that he has a mission to make humans an inter-galactic species. Read more »

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Jury-Rigging Democracy

Better information to limit Big Money’s initiative power.
This post is 10 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

“The best argument against democracy,” Winston Churchill reportedly said, “is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Watching native-born Americans belly flop on a citizenship test suggests Churchill wasn’t far wrong.

But what about a week-long conversation? Worse? Actually, no.

An intriguing model of citizen participation in Oregon suggests that prolonged conversations with voters—or, conversations among voters—can dramatically improve democracy. The model is based on the jury: the panel of disinterested voters, operating under strict rules of procedure, presented with arguments and evidence, and left to apply their judgment to a case.

What an independent, nonpartisan Oregon group called Healthy Democracy has begun doing, with the sanction of state government, is to submit pending ballot measures to quasi-jury trials and then publish the results in the voters’ pamphlet. What’s so intriguing is that Oregon voters are starting to pay special heed to the one-page verdicts of these mock trials. In fact, before long, such juries could hold more sway than millions of dollars in campaign cash.

Oregon’s Citizens’ Initiative Reviews (CIRs) are perhaps the brightest light in the constellation of reforms to the initiative process that I’ve been mapping in this set of articles. And paradoxically, they do nothing to stem the tide of Big Money (after all, SCOTUS won’t let us). Instead, they just aim to make money matter less. Read more »

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Washington State Traffic Forecast Finally Recognizes Reality

Does Washington's new road forecast spell the end of "build now, pay later"?
This post is 47 in the series: Dude, Where Are My Cars?

This is far and away the most responsible official traffic forecast I’ve seen from any government agency, ever:

It’s from a new transportation revenue forecast (pdf link, see p. 27) recently published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management. Their forecast from last September, in pink, assumed that traffic would grow endlessly, much as it did during the 1950s through 1990s. But the new forecast, in blue, assumes that the modest traffic growth of the past decade will continue, and will then be followed by a slight decline.

There are two reasons why this forecast is such a refreshing change. First, it reflects the growing empirical evidence of a long-term slowdown in the growth of vehicle travel, evident on major roads in Washington, for Washington State roads as a whole, for the US, and for much of the industrialized world.

Second, even if the forecast is wrong, assuming that traffic won’t grow much is the most fiscally prudent way to plan a transportation budget. Read more »


Birth Control? There’s an App for That

Planned Parenthood pioneers a new program to improve contraceptive access.

Given that 82 percent of teen pregnancies are unintended, it should come as no surprise that sexual health advocates are eager to make information and services even easier to access and more appealing to emerging adults. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which serves Western Washington, Alaska, and Southern Idaho, recently rolled out a telemedicine pilot project that may help to do just that.

The new plan offers virtual office visits via video conference with a trained reproductive health professional. A virtual visit allows a care provider and patient to see each other and have a conversation in real time, but without the scheduling and transportation challenges that cause some young people to delay care.  It provides an alternative way to get mail order contraceptives, or (soon) home tests for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. These two sexually transmitted infections are most common among youth ages 15 to 24 and together affect almost 4 million Americans per year.

In particular, Planned Parenthood hopes the new service will help meet the needs of young people in rural areas where simply getting to and from a clinic may take several hours. For youth in small communities, confidentiality can also be an issue: young people seeking services may not want to risk bumping into someone they know. Read more »

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Weekend Reading 10/17/14

Portland's awesome Street Books program, best bots, and more.
This post is 176 in the series: Weekend Reading

Editor’s Note: Recently, we invited board members to contribute to weekend reading when they like. Chris Troth took us up on the offer this week! And our fall communications intern, Keiko Budech, also added a couple pieces to this weeks picks—enjoy!


This article, which filled my heart with happy, is about librarians on cargo bikes in Portland who deliver customized reading piles to people who live outdoors. “Street Books has no return policy at all, except a kind of when-you-are-done-reading, next-time-we-meet handshake agreement.”

A fascinating discussion in Vancouver, BC, about the relative merits of mid-rise and high-rise housing.


Satellite data has found a methane emissions hotspot in the Southwest US—likely natural gas leaking from coal-bed methane projects. If the scientists are right, the emissions had the same global warming impact as all of the carbon dioxide produced yearly in Sweden.


Just how important is the connection between diversity in the workplace and the quality of the work that results? Objective research shows that when we collaborate with partners dissimilar from ourselves, we up our game, and slack off in the company of those who are more similar. Read more »

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Prediction: Cloud Peak’s Coal Export Division Will Start Losing Money in 2015

There's only so long a coal company can make money betting that coal prices will fall.
This post is 26 in the series: Coal Exports: Caveat Investor

Cloud Peak Energy—a major coal producer in the Powder River Basin, and one of the top coal exporters in the western US—will release its third quarter financials in a few weeks. And even though international coal prices have been in free-fall for almost three years, I expect that Cloud Peak’s financial reports will show that the company’s export (or “logistics”) division made money from June through September 2014.

Yet I also expect that, just beneath the surface, the firm’s financials will show that Cloud Peak lost money exporting coal to Asia, just as it has for the last four consecutive quarters.

Just beneath the surface, Cloud Peak’s financials will show that the firm lost money exporting coal to Asia—just as it has for the last four consecutive quarters.

So how is it possible for a coal company to report profits from its export division, but losses from actual export sales? The answer: even though Cloud Peak’s coal export sales are bleeding red ink, the company is still benefiting from big bets that the company made years ago on the coal futures market.

But I believe that those lucky bets are poised to run out, starting in 2015.

Read more »


Ebola versus Cars

How we systematically misunderstand risk.

I think this chart speaks for itself.

Original Sightline Institute chart, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute chart, available under our free use policy.

It’s probably fair to say that we’re in the midst of a full-blown media frenzy over the (admittedly worrisome) spread of the latest Ebola virus. Yet so far this year roughly 242 times as many people have died from traffic collisions—and I haven’t yet heard anyone call for banning cars, making driving illegal, or quarantining motorists. Read more »


Cap and Trade—In 3 Pictures

Three mental shortcuts for talking about smart climate and energy policy.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards

We all rely on mental shortcuts to make sense of new information. Often, metaphor and analogy—or pictures—help us get a handle on abstract ideas.

Right now, far-reaching climate and energy policy is back in the news, this time at the state level on the west coast where California has an established cap and trade system, Oregon and Washington are thinking seriously about putting a limit on climate pollution, and British Columbia has a successful carbon tax shift in place.

The time is right to deploy the most compelling illustrations of how smart climate and energy policy works for people and our economy. Here are three mental shortcuts for talking about cap and trade:

Read more »

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Can We Depend on the Money?

What Washington’s carbon revenue stream could look like through 2050.
This post is 16 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Is carbon revenue too flighty for Washington to depend on it to solve some of its budget woes—including the State Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate to fully fund education? If a carbon price is successful at cutting pollution, won’t the revenue stream dry up as the pollution dwindles? The answer is no. Price and pollution are related; the price must progressively increase to continue curtailing pollution. If Washington keeps ratcheting down the pollution, it will receive a carbon revenue stream that will steadily rise for the next two decades and then flatten out in the 2040s.

Because it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, I offer three plausible price scenarios based on what we know. We know that pollution responds to price. We know that complementary policies, such as investments in energy efficiency, can work with a price to cut the cost of paring pollution. Each of the scenarios below assumes the Evergreen State hits its existing pollution abatement goals: getting back to 1990 levels of pollution by 2020, then cutting to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, then slashing to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Read more »

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