Less than a week ago, Oregon’s idea for a landmark carbon reduction program appeared ready to move.
A budget subcommittee had just approved a final set of tweaks to House Bill 2020, and passed the bill on. The proposal to create a cap-and-trade system in Oregon would need just one more vote — in the full budget committee — to finally land in front of the full House and Senate.
But in the final days of a Legislative session, less than a week is a very long time. Rather than proceeding to that final vote, the bill moved back. It was taken up once again before the natural resources budget subcommittee on Tuesday.
“Every day is like a rollercoaster,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, a chief architect of the carbon reduction proposal.
At issue Tuesday were a flurry of last-minute amendments over the contentious proposal — some aimed at placating industrial opponents, others meant to calm the nerves of senators who could tank the bill.
One of the amendments was filed by state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, an influential co-chair of the budget committee. As OPB first reported last week, her proposal at the behest of industrial opponents of the bill would have significantly weakened its provisions.
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Others proposals were crafted more recently, as Senate Democrats aired concerns that jeopardized their support for the bill on the Senate floor.
“Over the weekend there was some interest in: ‘Maybe there are some other changes we should make,’” Dembrow said Tuesday.
When all was said and done, the natural resources subcommittee wound up adopting a handful of amendments. The committee also rejected Johnson’s amendment on a party-line vote. And Lawmakers turned down a proposal to remove an emergency clause that would put the bill into law when it’s signed by Gov. Kate Brown, though the full program wouldn’t begin until 2021.
House Bill 2020 would place a cap on Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions, and lower that cap over time as a tool to push businesses to get greener. The state would reduce emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Oregon would also begin charging large polluters for greenhouse gas emissions, forcing utilities, fuel importers and industrial facilities to purchase credits, known as “allowances,” for each ton of greenhouse gas they emit.
Those credits would be bought at auction, and could then be traded among regulated parties. Fewer credits would be auctioned off as the emissions cap declined, theoretically making them more expensive and spurring companies to emit less. Oregon would link its allowance auctions to the Western Climate Initiative, which also includes California and Quebec.
HB 2020 is supported by a wide range of environmental and community groups, who say the state has a chance to set an example of how to transition to a low-carbon future. The program has been criticized by industry groups and Republican lawmakers, who say it will be far too expensive to warrant the minuscule impact it will have on global emissions.
As of Tuesday, though, not much changed for the bill.
One amendment lawmakers passed would lump the aerospace industry into a list of facilities that could be put at a competitive disadvantage by the bill. Such facilities qualify for free credits under the program.
The amendment was narrowly aimed at a Boeing plant in Gresham, and was added as an enticement to convince Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, to support the bill on the floor.
Another more vague amendment lawmakers adopted was requested by the forest industry. Its language seeks to ensure that mills in the state won’t lose access to lumber, even as forest conservation projects are prized under the program.
Advocates and lawmakers said the bill was aimed at bringing another Democrat, Sen. Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, on board.
The subcommittee also added language to the bill ensuring any legal challenges over natural gas revenue would go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court. The amendment is a response to a legal opinion that suggested money from natural gas utilities might have to go toward state schools, not reducing emissions.
Those amendments passed with relative ease. But tensions rose when Republicans began moving their own suggestions.
Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, introduced Johnson’s amendment, which he said would help the state ease into the impacts of cap and trade.
“HB 2020 is a very comprehensive bill that will significantly impact our economy in Oregon,” Hayden said. “This would give us a little more time to figure out what those effects would be.”
According to the state’s Carbon Policy Office, though, the amendment would have killed the cap-and-trade proposal. “These changes render the program non-viable,” the office wrote in a memo to lawmakers.
The committee rejected the amendment on a party-line vote.
Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, attempted to get the emergency clause stricken from the bill. As he has repeatedly, Girod pointed out that the clause preempts voters from filing a referendum to put the law on the ballot.
He also aired a new argument: that voters would be unable to file an initiative petition striking the law from the books. That's a new argument, that appeared to catch some lawmakers off guard. Girod said he had a legal opinion that confirmed his contention, but his office wasn’t able to send it to OPB Tuesday evening.
Girod was not able to get sufficient support to remove the emergency clause.
As it had last week, the subcommittee wound up passing the bill to the full budget committee on a party-line vote.
“It’s time to take this step and go forth and protect this world because my grandkids are going to be mighty upset if we don’t,” said Rep. Jeff Reardon, D-Happy Valley, a co-chair of the subcommittee.
Girod, on the other hand, called the bill a “travesty.”
“It was a lousy idea 10 years ago. It’s a really lousy idea now,” he said. “So I’ll be a damn 'no'.”