SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the speaker of the House of Representatives, both Democrats, said Friday that passing legislation aimed at stemming climate change is their priority when lawmakers return to the Capitol next month.
But Rep. Christine Drazan, the leader of the minority Republicans in the House, said she opposes the so-called cap and trade bill that was unveiled this week. The 35-day session of the 2020 Legislature begins on Feb. 3.
“The only thing that cap and trade guarantees is that prices for individual Oregonians will go up, their daily cost of living is going to go up under this proposal,” Drazan said.
Their comments at an Associated Press forum in the Oregon State Capitol on Friday foreshadowed a fight over the same issue that in the 2019 legislative session triggered a walkout by Republican senators.
The new bill largely authored by Senate Democrats includes changes designed to assuage critics in the manufacturing and utility sectors, and create fewer impacts for rural Oregon but maintains a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by certain percentages below 1990 levels.
The new bill splits the state into three geographic zones that would be phased in separately for rules that would likely increase gas and diesel prices, with Portland being affected first, then other large urban areas, and finally rural regions. That approach is designed to address concerns that last year’s failed measure would have disproportionately affected rural communities where distances between homes and towns are great, with residents having little option but to drive.
But Drazan said it was an insufficient fix.
“The people who cannot afford it in Portland are no different than the people who could not have afforded it in rural Oregon,” she said.
Drazan, who will be leading Republicans in the House for the first time this session, said she did not want to see a repeat of the GOP boycott last year that deprived Democrats of achieving a quorum in the Senate, but added: “I think all options have to be on the table.”
Still, Brown said he was “cautiously optimistic” something could pass despite Republicans saying there could be another walkout by the GOP to thwart the effort.
“From the impact on our seafood, to our forests, to the snow in our mountains, it’s critically important that we move forward on a climate change bill,” Brown said, adding that the bill must not exacerbate economic imbalances in rural and minority communities.
Lawmakers should also address fighting wildfires, which have grown more intense with climate change and federal mismanagement, Brown said.
She said she will ask the Legislature to make $150 million to $200 million in investments now that will reduce impact of devastating wildfires, for example by forest thinning and controlled burning.
“We have an opportunity to get boots on the ground and put Oregonians in rural Oregon to work,” she said.
Sen. Ginny Burdick, the Senate majority leader, was the only senate leader to appear before the reporters, with Senate President Peter Courtney out with a hip injury and Sen. Herman Baertschiger, Jr., the Senate minority leader, saying through a spokeswoman that he cancelled so he could drive to his home district amid winter storms.
Burdick, who revealed that she is sponsoring a gun control bill, said it would be counterproductive for Republicans to stage a walkout again this year.
“The Republicans say they don’t like one party rule,” she said. “Well, if they don’t show up, you really do have one party, and that’s not healthy.”
Buerdick said her bill would allow local governments to have completely gun free zones if they choose.
“In many school districts that you talk to, people who have experience with parents coming to their parent teacher conferences, packing heat, they don’t like that. And they would like their schools to be gun free. The bill would it would simply give local governments the option,” Burdick said.
Brown said Friday that her party, which controls the Legislature, had addressed the GOP’s two main concerns about last year’s climate legislation: that rural Oregonians would have to pay more for gas and worries about the impact on rural manufacturers.
Like its predecessor, the draft bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state.