Comparing the urgency of global climate change to threats faced in World War II, advocates for new greenhouse gas regulations amassed in Salem on Tuesday, urging action on an issue threatening to bring the Oregon Legislature to a halt.
In response to a raucous rally of farmers, truckers and loggers last week, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on the Capitol steps demanding lawmakers pass Senate Bill 1530, a proposal to curb the state's emissions.
“We need to engage the climate crisis with the ferocity and all-out investment that we engaged World War II,” said Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba.
K.C. Hanson, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, picked up the theme, suggesting that facing climate change would require shared sacrifices, “much like the effort of the 1940s” when the U.S. was at war.
“It is now World War III, and the enemy is actually less loathsome because he is us,” Hanson said. “If we face it, we can and will be the world’s next great generation.”
Under SB 1530, large polluters in the transportation, utility and manufacturing sectors would be forced to obtain credits for every ton of greenhouse gases they emit. Overall emissions would be subject to an upper limit, or "cap," that would lower over time.
Speakers and rally attendees at Tuesday's event stressed the urgency of climate change, pointing to wildfires in Australia and floods in Eastern Oregon as examples of disasters that will become more common.
“Nature herself is speaking to power,” said Eric Richardson, executive director of the NAACP of Eugene/Springfield. “Power should be listening to her. ... The science has spoken.”
Opponents of cap and trade insist there will be economic fallout in the form of increased prices, worrying their businesses will be disadvantaged or destroyed. Proponents counter that the plan would create new jobs in the clean energy field, as Oregon transitions away from fossil fuels. While the state’s overall emissions are small on a global scale, they say Oregon can be a leader for others to look to.
Tuesday’s rally comes as SB 1530 faces likely movement this week.
A Senate committee considering the bill planned to meet Tuesday to take up amendments. Many of those proposals — introduced by Republicans who oppose the plan — will likely not be added.
Democrats are also expected to issue a package of substantive amendments to the bill prior to Thursday, when it must be voted out of committee in keeping with legislative deadlines.
Each step SB 1530 takes forward in the Capitol brings lawmakers closer to a possible showdown that has been in the works since last year.
Republicans in both the Senate and House have suggested they are willing to walk away from the building, possibly denying Democrats the quorum needed to conduct business. Senate Republicans used the tactic twice in 2019, helping to kill three policies on guns, vaccines and climate change.
This year, such drastic measures aren't likely to emerge until SB 1530 is scheduled for a vote on the floor of the Senate, at earliest.
Tensions have already run high in the Capitol, less than two weeks into this year’s five-week legislative session.
In the House, Republicans have declined to suspend legislative rules requiring that bills be read in full before final passage, forcing floor sessions to last far longer than they would otherwise. And two Republican senators walked out of a hearing in the Senate Housing Committee last week, after Sen. Shemia Fagan, a Portland Democrat and the committee’s chair, suggested that Timber Unity was attempting to shut down the Capitol with its rally against the cap-and-trade bill.
Whether Republicans in either chamber can ultimately muster the unanimity in an election year to deny Democrats a quorum remains to be seen. If just two Republicans in either chamber decline to walk with their colleagues, Democrats would be able to conduct business.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday appeared to be taking a possible step away from a walkout. Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, issued a press release decrying a new agreement between conservation groups and the timber industry, which was announced on Monday.
The agreement revolves around forest management, not cap and trade, but Baertschiger suggested the deal “undermined all past and future efforts by the Senate Republicans to address cap and trade.”
A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, Kate Gillem, said it was “a major oversight on the part of these companies in failing to communicate with the Senate Republicans about the deal prior to the announcement.” While that doesn’t prevent Republicans from walking, Gillem said, “it has them wondering if they are truly supported.”
If SB 1530 does ultimately fail to pass this session, voters will likely have a say in how the state tackles climate policy. The Renew Oregon coalition, a central backer of the cap-and-trade bill, has filed ballot measures for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is promising to push them forward if SB 1530 fails.
“We will pass legislation this year in Oregon,” Gamba told the gathered crowd Tuesday. “We will either do it in this building, or we will do it in the ballot box.”
OPB Reporter Monica Samayoa contributed to this article.