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Changing the recipe on climate change

A quotation attributed to Otto von Bismarck says, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

Legislating can indeed be messy, even unappetizing. But sometimes, changing the recipe is exactly what’s called for.

Oregon Democratic lawmakers still smarting from the defeat of a cap-and-trade bill last session that prompted a walkout by Senate Republicans are doing what responsible legislators do in such situations: working on a compromise that everyone can live with. It won’t make everyone happy, and will especially dismay hard-line climate activists, but it just might be the difference between a less-than-perfect bill and no bill at all.

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, is among those Democrats working ahead of the 2020 session to respond to the concerns of those critical of last year’s bill.

That measure was intended to align Oregon with California and Canada, which have adopted their own cap-and-trade systems. The idea was to set up a market system to encourage companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Revenues collected from those companies would have gone to blunt the impact of the new rules on rural communities by investing in worker retraining programs.

Still, it was strong opposition from rural Oregonians that helped doom the 2019 measure. The effect on gasoline prices at the pump was especially concerning to rural residents who must drive longer distances to work, school and other daily activities.

The changes being discussed in Salem now include phasing in compliance by fuel importers starting with the Portland area in 2022 and smaller metropolitan areas three years later. Other changes include putting the Department of Environmental Quality in charge of administering the program rather than creating a whole new bureaucracy — another point of criticism.

In addition, the proposal Marsh is backing, called the Oregon Resilient Communities Act, would give 80% of revenues from fuel regulation directly to local communities without those communities having to apply for state grants first.

Republicans, so far, are noncommittal. Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, criticized the notion of addressing major cap-and-trade legislation in the short session, which was intended to make minor fixes and budget adjustments. That’s a fair criticism. But the same argument delayed work on the concept in the 2018 short session, and Republicans walked out rather than see it pass in 2019.

If major concessions are introduced next year to address Republican objections, they will be less able to justify obstructionist tactics.

Climate activists are bound to object to what they see as a bill that is too weak. But that’s what compromise looks like. To get something sometimes means accepting less than everything.