Climate bill could trigger GOP walkout in Oregon Statehouse

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The GOP leader in the Oregon Senate said Wednesday there could be another walkout by Republicans over legislation aimed at stemming global warming.

"I'm still having conversations, but nothing is off the table,” Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., told reporters.

He said a draft bill is similar to one Democrats introduced in 2019 that resulted in a nine-day walkout by the minority Republicans last June, preventing a quorum in the Senate. The Republicans fled the state under threat of being arrested by the Oregon State Police to compel their return. They returned to the Oregon State Capitol only after Democrats announced the bill was dead because they lacked votes to independently pass the measure.

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. Baertschiger claimed that if the bill passes as written, it would result in increased costs to the average family of $650 per year because of higher taxes on fossil fuels like natural gas, gasoline and diesel. But he then acknowledged to reporters that that estimate is based on last year's bill, not the current draft legislation which is different and is likely to be changed even more as it moves through the Legislature.

He suggested that instead of being put through the Legislature, where Democrats hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate, that lawmakers refer the issue to voters for the November ballot.

“I think because of the polarization of this particular piece of legislation ... we can't even move towards an agreement, that maybe it's just time to let the voters make the decision,” Baertschiger said.

There was no immediate comment from Democratic leaders.

The draft bill to implement a so-called cap and trade program in Oregon was unveiled Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources committee. Its authors say it will be tweaked during the 35-day session of the Legislature that begins Feb. 3. It reportedly maintains the commitment to reduce greenhouse gases 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below that level by 2050.

The 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. Those tweaks are largely centered on how automotive fuel suppliers and big industrial players are treated, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Rather than uniform statewide regulation of automotive fuels, the new proposal splits the state into three geographic zones that would be phased in separately. That approach is designed to address concerns that cap and trade would hike gas prices statewide, disproportionately affecting rural communities where distances between homes and towns are great with residents having little option but to drive.

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