SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature convened its 2020 session Monday, with majority Democrats’ prioritizing stemming global warming through legislation that is being amended to get as many stakeholders behind it as possible.
Republican lawmakers have threatened a walkout — a tactic they used twice in the 2019 session to prevent a quorum on a climate bill and a school funding tax. Republicans did appear for Monday’s opening.
“I’m optimistic if we can just have respectful debate, we’ll get through this,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, told reporters. But she said Republicans should not simply reject any proposal without suggesting solutions to combat global warming.
“’No’ is not an option,” Kotek said.
Environmentalists worry that, as lawmakers try to make it palatable to as many sectors as possible, the legislation might become so watered down that it will cripple its intent to stem global warming by curtailing the amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. Opponents of the legislation say increased costs to major greenhouse gas emitters will be passed down to consumers, especially affecting the poor.
Kotek said she is looking forward to seeing the latest amendments to the bill, which have not been released yet, and added that it is important the bill hits carbon reduction goals. As submitted, the bill calls for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 45% below 1990 emissions levels by 2035 and to at least 80% below 1990 emissions levels by 2050.
Opponents of the climate bill plan a rally at the Oregon State Capitol on Thursday with a convoy of trucks and tractors. The 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.
The new climate change measure, largely authored by Senate Democrats, includes changes from another bill that failed in the 2019 session and is designed to assuage critics in the manufacturing and utility sectors, and create fewer impacts for rural Oregon.
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.
Oregon Senate Democrats said Monday they also plan to focus on strengthening wildfire resilience; education and workforce training; and increasing access to preventive health care and mental health services.
Senate President Peter Courtney opened the Senate session despite having been hospitalized with a painful infection and other serious complications in his replacement hip. A physical therapist stood behind Courtney, who sometimes grimaced with pain as he conducted business on the first day of the 35-day session.
“You’ve been extraordinarily patient to allow me to come up here and do this,” Courtney, 76, told lawmakers. “Behind me is a physical therapist. It is pure and simple. Without him I could not be here today.”
This version corrects that Republicans walked out over two, not three, measures in 2019.
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