Supporters of Oregon’s cap-and-trade legislation say the state will fall even further behind on its climate goals if the bill fails.

And they were quick to express their displeasure Tuesday with the bill’s apparent demise in the Oregon Senate.

Climate action supporters gather on the Oregon Capitol steps Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

Climate action supporters gather on the Oregon Capitol steps Tuesday, June 25, 2019.

Renew Oregon

Climate activists assembled in the chamber’s visitor galleries turned their backs to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, as he announced House Bill 2020 didn’t have the votes to pass. 

Then those activists proceeded to hold a rally on the steps of the Capitol in support of the bill. Many expressed anger and frustration toward the 11 Republican senators who appear to have quashed the state’s plan to cap greenhouse gas emissions by fleeing the state to prevent a vote on HB 2020.

Leslee Lucas spoke out against Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, who represents her part of the state and recently threatened the state troopers Gov. Kate Brown called upon to bring Republicans back to Salem.

“I am outraged by my senator, and I plan to go to his office and let his wife know — if she’s still in the state — that this is not what we elect representatives to do,” Lucas said.

While a lot of the most vocal opposition to House Bill 2020 has come from rural areas, Lucas said there are people in rural Oregon who support the bill and want to see the state take action on climate change.

“This is not a rural versus urban issue,” Lucas said. “It’s our livestock, our crops, our homes being threatened by climate change.”

House Bill 2020 would set a limit on the greenhouse gas emissions coming from about 100 of the state’s largest polluters. The plan would require those companies to buy pollution permits to cover their emissions that they could trade on a carbon market.

The idea is to encourage companies to burn less of the fossil fuels that are warming up the planet. Supporters say it’s a much-needed policy shift that will raise money to help the state adapt to climate change and transition away from fossil fuels. They also see it as a way for Oregon to offer a model for other states looking to reduce their contributions to climate change.

But opponents say the plan will cost Oregonians too much in higher energy prices and cause too much damage to the state’s economy.

Democrats have been pursuing a cap-and-trade plan for years — in large part because the state has fallen behind on the climate goals it set back in 2007. Those goals have been slipping out of reach in recent years as car and truck emissions have gone up — moving Oregon in the wrong direction when it comes to those climate goals.

Angus Duncan, Oregon’s Global Warming Commission chair, said the greenhouse gas reduction goals set in HB 2020 — to reduce emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 — are similar to the state’s existing goals.

The bill is designed to help the state meet those goals by reducing the cap on emissions over time.

“There’s not that much change in the goals,” he said. “The real issue is will we meet them?”

Duncan said the state is on track to meet its goals for emissions from electric utilities, thanks to state rules that require utilities to add renewables like wind and solar to their power mix over time. But so far the gains on that front have been undermined by increases in transportation and a lack of reductions in the use of natural gas. The state’s greenhouse gas emissions dipped under 60 million tons a few years ago after peaking in 1999 at around 73 million tons.

“Since then we have crept back up and now we’re back up at about 63 million tons emitted every year from the state of Oregon,” he said. “Most of that is increased transportation emissions. We have to push those down.”

The state’s current policies clearly aren’t doing enough to reduce emissions, he said, and global warming is already having an impact on the state with heat waves, wildfires and flooding.

“It’s not that we won’t de-carbonize, but we will de-carbonize at too slow a rate to protect the planet and protect our communities,” he said. “The pace of conversion from fossil fuels to non-fossil fuels is simply too slow.”

He and other supporters of HB 2020 say the state still needs to pick up the pace of emissions reductions and do its part to avoid a climate catastrophe — even if it’s not in the form of cap and trade.

Rep. Pam Marsh, a Democrat from southern Jackson County, is a member of the Joint Committee for Carbon Reduction, which developed and amended the bill. She told OPB’s Think Out Loud that she’s prepared to keep working on the issue should the cap-and-trade bill fail.

“Something must pass because what we are facing is an existential crisis,” she said. “In my own Southern Oregon region I see climate change unfolding on a regular basis. We are not immune. Our options are already being narrowed and we need to get our act together to pass legislation to both address the issue and help our communities adapt to the changes we’re already seeing.”