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Oregon voters may decide climate change question

To Alan Journet, a founding member of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, the Oregon Legislature’s momentum on a bill to cap carbon emissions earlier this year had the trappings of a watershed moment.

But legislators dropped the hotly contested bill after controversy exploded into a walkout by Senate Republicans, letting the air out of Journet’s sails.

“We had moments of extreme optimism,” he said, “which was shattered by the behavior of other opponents of the legislation.”

Wednesday morning at Vogel Plaza in Medford, members of SOCAN and the Rural Oregon Climate Political Action Committee held a press conference announcing their intention to hand the carbon question to voters in a trio of initiative petitions targeted for the November 2020 ballot.

The organizers said the effort is meant to keep carbon emissions on the front burner in case the Legislature does not tackle the cap-and-trade bill during its upcoming short session.

“Our hope is that the legislators will follow through on their commitments to the people and voters of Oregon,” Journet said.

Organizers with Renew Oregon submitted over 6,000 signatures gathered from around the state to the Oregon Secretary of State Wednesday. They’ll have to gather 112,000 signatures for each of the three initiative petitions to get them on the ballot.

Opponents of House Bill 2020, a cap-and-trade bill that would have taxed businesses that generate over a certain amount of carbon, warned of gasoline price hikes and job losses. Republican senators blocked a vote on the bill in late June by leaving the state, denying a quorum. Democrats did not have the votes to pass the bill and dropped it when Republicans returned.

Some Democratic legislators are looking to reintroduce cap-and-trade legislation in the short session convening next February. If legislation is not passed, Renew Oregon says it will move forward with its petitions.

Prospective Initiative Petition 48 would mandate that Oregon reach 100% dependence on renewable and carbon-free energy resources by Jan. 1, 2045.

Initiative Petition 49 would require electric companies to conform to standards of “beneficial electrification” (the definition includes reducing greenhouse gases and saving customer costs over time) by 2045.

Initiative Petition 50, would amend Oregon law to demand the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 100% below 1990 levels by 2050. It would require half of that reduction to be accomplished by 2035.

“This is a big step forward in our fight against climate change,” said Hogan Sherrow, director of ROCPAC.

Between three and four dozen supporters who turned out for the press conference Wednesday in Medford were met by two dozen or so protesters clad in yellow vests. The stark visual of the two sides served as a reminder of the hard lines drawn in the Legislature over cap-and-trade legislation in the 2019 session.

Protesters kept their distance from the climate activists, congregating at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue. They held signs with messages such as, “Carbon tax is a lie!!!”

Several of the protesters expressed their doubt about widely accepted scientific conclusions about the human role in climate change. They also expressed concern about the impacts of the proposed initiative petitions on business and personal freedoms.

“It has many other agendas besides saving the Earth,” said Gregg Marchese. “That’s a pretext for other power plays.”

Marchese and other protesters at the event voiced concern over a number of things, from smart meter safety to chemtrails and whether the Holocaust happened. Among the two groups, a few people debated relatively calmly.

The press conference was scheduled to kick off at noon, but was delayed when the driver of a pickup truck hit a pedestrian crossing Central Avenue. Divisions were temporarily laid aside as protesters and climate activists alike stepped in to help.

After the pedestrian was taken by a Mercy Flights ground ambulance and emergency service vehicles cleared out, Sherrow began the speeches.

Tonya Graham, an Ashland city councilor speaking as executive director of the GEOS Institute, applauded the provisions in the petitions.

She said she planned to ask Ashland City Council to support them.

“While Oregon already has targets for reducing climate pollution, they’re not adequate, and we are not meeting them,” Graham said. “The 100% clear air economy will require our economy to be fueled entirely by clean energy and will update and enforce Oregon’s targets so that they will align with what our scientists are telling us we must achieve.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Hogan Sherrow, director of Rural Oregon Climate Political Action Committee, leads a SOCAN rally Wednesday at Vogel Plaza. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune