Eager to avoid the acrimony and Republican walkouts that temporarily paralyzed the end of last year’s legislative session, Oregon lawmakers have been busy crafting a new version of their climate change policy in hopes of passing it in the 35-day session that begins Feb. 3.
From Democrats’ perspective, the proposal includes significant concessions to appease critics who claimed the bill would be a disaster for rural Oregon; that it threatened the viability of some of the state’s biggest industrial employers; and that backers were trying to ram a bill through on party lines while ignoring Republican input.
There are already signs, however, that Republicans will continue to satisfy their rural base on the issue. Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, who was invited by Senate President Peter Courtney’s office to contribute to the new concept, said he has abandoned the effort, adding that the concessions “are all fake,” and that he was disgusted by the process.
Climate change activists, meanwhile, worry that backers of the bill overreacted to criticism and so fundamentally diluted the program that it may be worse than doing nothing at all. They also worry a weakened bill would disqualify Oregon from linking its proposed carbon cap and trade market with California’s – a feature of last year’s bill designed to lower costs and keep the program uniform across state lines.
Backers acknowledge that they’ve had to water down the legislation in hopes of getting it passed. But they say the proposal maintains the same emissions caps and will generate the desired pollution reductions in the same time period as last year’s failed House Bill 2020. Senate backers plan to unveil Legislative Concept 19 for their colleagues at a hearing Monday, and stress that it’s a work in progress.
“We got the message there was fear out there around HB 2020, particularly in rural areas,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and co-chair of the Joint Carbon Reduction Committee. “I believe those fears would not have come to pass, that there would have been more benefits than difficulties for rural parts of the state. But we took those fears seriously and addressed them in these changes.”
The upcoming climate debate will once again spotlight the hyper-partisan, populist dynamics at work in the Oregon Legislature, as nationally. If it fails, there are potentially ballot measures and executive actions in the offing to accomplish similar goals. Its outcome may also play an important role in upcoming elections.
“It’s clearly going to be the No. 1 issue everyone across the state is going to be looking at,” said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University. “It’s also the prism by which voters will view the upcoming elections and by which people decide to challenge incumbents in the primaries.”
The broad framework of HB 2020 remains in place. That means the bill would establish a gradually declining cap on statewide carbon dioxide emissions. It would also require polluters from the transportation fuels, utility and industrial sectors to acquire “allowances” to cover every metric ton of their emissions. As the supply of those allowances declines over time, the theory goes, the price of allowances will go up and force polluters to clean up — by electrifying transportation, building more wind and solar farms or adopting more efficient production technology.