PORTLAND — Washington state lawmakers are very familiar with the type of cap-and-trade bill to combat climate change that in Oregon led 11 Republican state senators to walk out and leave the state in a dramatic effort to block a vote.
During the past decade, two Washington Democratic governors — Christine Gregoire and Jay Inslee — pushed unsuccessfully to pass similar legislation that would create a tightening cap on carbon emissions and then auction off pollution permits. And a veteran state Democratic senator from Seattle who introduced a cap-and-trade bill during the last session is poised to resubmit a proposal in 2020 when the Legislature reconvenes in Olympia.
“We are in the battle now, and it will take time,” state Sen. Reuven Carlyle said. “But I am absolutely committed to the bill.”
Carlyle next year is expected to face determined opposition from Washington Republican lawmakers as the two major parties — nationally and at the state level — continue to be largely at odds over the need for government action to crack down on carbon and other fossil-fuel emissions that drive climate change.
But Carlyle will not have to contend with an Oregon-style walkout to thwart a vote.
Washington is one of 44 states to mandate that a majority of senators be on hand for a vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures — rather than the two-thirds majority that Oregon requires to be present for a vote on Senate legislation.
Even without such tactics, actions such as cap-and-trade, which attempts to clamp down on fossil-fuel use by putting a price on carbon pollution, have been a political hurdle in the Pacific Northwest.
Inslee’s 2015 cap-and-trade bill never got floor votes in the House or Senate. Since then, Washington has twice rejected carbon pricing in the form of a tax or fee on pollution, and that double-dose of defeat on the ballot has helped make some Democratic legislators wary of that pricing approach to reducing carbon pollution.
Inslee, who is running for president on a climate-change platform, focused during the 2019 session on regulatory measures, such as the successful passage of a law to phase out fossil fuels in power production.
In Oregon, cap-and-trade legislation, House Bill 2020, has been a focal point of the Democrats’ action plan to combat climate change through carbon pricing.
On Tuesday, Sen. Peter Courtney, the Oregon state Senate president, said the House bill did not have enough support to pass during the session that ends Sunday, June 30, and that dynamic would not change in the days ahead.
His statement implied that some Senate Democrats would join Republicans in voting against House Bill 2020. That could set the stage for an end to the Republican walkout that began Thursday.
Courtney, in his remarks to Democratic senators, talked passionately about the need to move forward with votes on other pending legislation involving education, public safety and “dealing with those in our society who need help.”
Republicans appear wary and bitter about the war-of- words that has resulted from their walkout.
On Wednesday, Oregon Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger said that he and his Republican colleagues are looking for assurances that there are enough votes from Democrats to kill the bill, and that they will talk about a way forward via teleconferences.
“Republicans want to come back … We do not want to stay out. But we got to be assured that we don’t get hoodwinked,’ Baertschiger said in an interview with KAJO-AM radio in Grants Pass.
Courtney also is facing backlash from the bill’s supporters.
Some environmental advocates dispute Courtney’s assessment of the votes. They want a Senate vote on cap-and-trade to be called should Republicans return.
“Make them vote and answer to their voters, and Oregon’s children,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of Renew Oregon, a group pushing for the bill.
If the legislation dies, it will represent another setback for carbon pricing in the Pacific Northwest.
Carbon pricing is intended to accelerate the shift to cleaner forms of energy by making it increasingly expensive to continue relying on fossil fuels. The Oregon legislation sets a target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent, by 2050. That would take emissions down to 1990 levels.
Some of the usual players in combating carbon pricing — oil-industry groups — have stayed in the background this year in Oregon. “While our members had concerns about specific elements of this cap-and-trade bill, we did not actively oppose the legislation,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association in a statement to The Seattle Times.
Oregon Democrats, meanwhile, sought to blunt the criticism from rural Oregon, the timber industry and other industry groups with measures to ease the bite on low-income residents and some industries. But the concessions did not go far enough to forestall the Republican walkout, which underscored the deep political divide over climate change and quickly gained national attention.
On Monday, Carlyle remained confident that cap-and-trade will take hold in the Northwest.
Meanwhile, Washington Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen, of Ferndale, applauded the walkout by Oregon Republicans.
” I think you need to have people who will say we need to slow this down, take a look at what it’s doing to the economy. And that’s what they are doing,” Ericksen said.
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