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Dark day for climate bill supporters

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Environmental groups are alarmed that a bill to limit carbon emissions in Oregon is on the legislative ropes.

“To resist it and vote against it is to vote against our children and grandchildren,” said Alan Journet with Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.

The retired biology professor has spent the past seven years pushing for legislation that would create a model for carbon reduction in the state, culminating in House Bill 2020.

Journet and other environmentalists still hold out hope that the bill will get signed into law, though Republican senators have staged a walkout for more than a week to deny a quorum.

On Tuesday, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) said the bill didn’t have enough votes among Democrats.

Under the bill’s cap-and-trade proposal, the state would put an overall limit on greenhouse gas emissions and auction off pollution allowances for each ton of carbon industries plan to emit.

Oregon Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, one of the 11 Republican senators who left the state, said the bill would hit rural areas of the state particularly hard. He took issue with Democratic senators who support the bill.

“There is a certain amount of arrogance that they don’t recognize,” he said.

On Thursday, Republicans had still not returned to Salem, hiding out in Idaho and other nearby states, joining a chorus of protest over the cap-and-trade bill.

Republicans were pushing for a statewide vote on the bill, saying it would hurt businesses and push up fuel prices.

“The opposition is putting out fraudulent claims about what the bill would do, including that this will push up the price of gasoline a tremendous amount,” Journet said.

California, which passed similar legislation, saw gas prices go up briefly and then go down again, he said.

“There are so many other factors that influence the price of gasoline,” he said.

According to the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, House Bill 2020 would raise gas prices from 19 cents to 72 cents a gallon, jumping even higher in the future. The average annual cost increase for a passenger vehicle would be $95. Josephine County would see an average annual cost increase of $113 as pump prices rise.

Natural gas bills could go up 13% in 2021, according to Northwest Natural.

Even though costs might increase, a legislative analysis found the bill might actually spur the state economy.

Journet said burning fossil fuels over the past 200 years has helped improve economies around the world.

“We were polluting our atmospheres in ways that cause global warming,” he said. “Yes, there are folks that simply reject the science.”

Journet said Oregon has the chance to create a climate bill that will be a model for other states and the world.

But many local business leaders have opposed House Bill 2020, and many in the trucking and logging industries have come out against it.

Ric Merritt, Medford terminal manager with TP Freight, said House Bill 2020 would have a devastating impact on the Oregon economy.

“The cost of it would be astronomical to local businesses,” he said.

He put the blame for the bill squarely on Gov. Kate Brown.

“I think our governor tried to stick this down our throat, and she thinks she’s got a lot of power,” he said. “House Bill 2020 is the most far-fetched thing I can think of.”

Merritt said the governor should spend her time thinking of ways to get the timber industry rolling again to help improve the local economy.

“Taxing everybody into oblivion is going to kill the economy,” he said.

But Joseph Vaile, executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said many Oregonians have been waiting a long time for legislation to address climate change.

“I will be devastated if nothing happens for another year,” he said. “Obviously we need to do something if this bill is dead. Let’s get another one out there.”

Vaile said Oregon enjoys one of the biggest mechanisms to store carbon, namely its forests.

“We need to figure how best to take advantage of that,” he said.

KS Wild’s mission is to protect and restore wildland areas in southwest Oregon and northwest California.

Another environmental group, Rogue Climate, has spent this week opposing a proposed natural gas pipeline that would go through 229 miles of Southern Oregon, which would also increase the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

“Our communities have a real great opportunity to stop the carbon fuel infrastructure in Southern Oregon,” said Allie Rosenbluth with Rogue Climate.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

A group including three Democratic senators stand among the empty desks of Republican senators during a Senate floor session at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on May 7, 2019. Republicans denied the Senate a quorum so they could avoid voting on an education revenue bill. (Connor Radnovich/Statesman-Journal via AP)
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