SALEM — Democrats appear to have the support to move forward on a massive environmental plan to price carbon after a week of turmoil and uncertainty.
House Bill 2020, which would implement a cap and trade program, passed out of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means on Wednesday. It now goes to the House floor for a vote scheduled for Monday. It’s the most significant piece of legislation still in the works, with the legislative ending in two weeks.
The legislation — and the 116th amendment proposed on it — passed out of committee on a 13-8 party vote with Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, temporarily sitting in for Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. Johnson, the most conservative of the Senate Democrats, has been a vocal opponent of the bill, saying it would destroy the state’s economy.
Business trade groups have long opposed the bill, but individuals working in industry have also made themselves seen in hearings for months.
Wednesday was no different, as log truckers rallied in front of the Capitol in the morning before filling the hearing room and overflow room, dressed in their well-worn pants, boots and suspenders.
They apparently didn’t feel heard in the brief, 20-minute hearing, so they took to their trucks. For an hour and a half after the hearing they performed an auditory assault on lawmakers, driving around the building blowing their airhorns to make sure lawmakers they were literally heard.
Under the cap and trade program, a 52 million metric ton cap will be placed over 80 percent of the state’s emissions. It would regulate nearly all sectors of the economy, excluding agriculture and forestry.
Entities regulated by the cap which are emitting at least 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gasses per year will have to buy allowances from the state for each ton over the limit.
If companies overestimate their need, they can sell those allowances on a marketplace linked to California and Quebec, Canada. If they don’t buy enough, they can likewise purchase some on the marketplace.
The state will make fewer allowances available over time, a mechanism intended to force industry to undertake conversions that reduce emissions. The targets are a 45 percent decline from 1990’s level by 2035 and an 80 percent decline by 2050.
It’s a wildly progressive proposal. Oregon’s plan is in part based on California, but Oregon’s economy is much smaller. The hope is to show other states that such a plan can work in smaller and more rural states.
16-cent gas hike
However, Republicans have been staunchly against the idea, saying it will decimate the rural way of life, where people work in mills and factories that would be hurt by cap and trade. They drive longer distances, making the estimated 16 cent-per-gallon increase in gas costs more significant.
To that end, Republicans made a last-ditch effort to change the bill with amendments drafted by industry and one that would remove the emergency clause. Both those proposals failed on party-line votes, as they did the day before in the Ways and Means Natural Resources Subcommittee.
Senate Republican Whip Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, and state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, released the following joint statement:
“We must not allow this bill to pass. It will kill jobs, it will hurt families, businesses and employees, and it will incur extreme costs without providing benefit to the environment. We stand with the people who oppose cap and trade and will be strong ‘no’ votes on House Bill 2020.”
Not all Democrats are lining up in support. Rep. David Gomberg, D-Central Coast, said Oregon once had an environmental legacy due to things like bottle deposit and public beaches, but it’s lost that legacy over the years. The new policy is a chance to regain that reputation, but it will come at a cost, he said.
“I am concerned about my farmers, I am concerned about my dairies, I am concerned about my fishermen,” Gomberg said. “I am particularly concerned about my good men and women that work in the large mills in my small towns.”
— Reporter Aubrey Wieber: firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-575-1251.