Demonstrators showed up at the Oregon State Capitol to protest the latest cap-and-trade bill.
Demonstrators showed up at the Oregon State Capitol to protest the latest cap-and-trade bill.
Photo: AP

For the second time in less than a year, Republicans have fled the Oregon Statehouse rather than fulfill their duty as elected officials.

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It’s all because they don’t have the votes to block cap and trade legislation, a formerly orthodox Republican, market-based solution to address climate change. If you think Republicans are ever going to be part of realistic solutions to climate change, I have a grove of a trillion trees to sell you.

On Monday, Oregon’s state senate passed a cap-and-trade bill—known as SB 1530—out of committee. The bill would establish an initiative to help draw down Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions by creating a market for companies to trade pollution permits. The targets SB 1530 lays out are to get emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, and ratcheting down to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This is not, by any means, a radical proposition in the face of catastrophic climate change.

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With supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate chambers, Democrats should be able to pass the bill with relative ease. But there’s a catch: There has to be a quorum of two-thirds of state senators (or in the case of the House side, representatives) present to vote on legislation. Democrats hold an edge in the senate by a margin of 18 to 12 seats, meaning at least two Republicans have to show up for the state senate to vote on anything. When it came time to vote on SB 1530, 11 of the Republicans were nowhere to be found.

To try and entice Republicans to show up and do their damn jobs, Democrats even threw them a couple of bones. The Oregonian pointed to the concessions Democrats made, including “exempting a geographically large portion of the state from fees on gas and diesel indefinitely,” an effort which should have, in theory, assuaged concerns the cap-and-trade system would disproportionately hurt the rural poor who don’t have access to public transit. The 11 Republicans who no-showed on Monday are from these rural areas and represent only 36% of the state’s population.

Yet on Monday, only one Republican showed up, and the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms wasn’t able to round up any others from their offices throughout the Capitol. The Senate Republican leader, Herman Baertschiger Jr., “did leave the door open” to the possibility that his fellow senators would return, the Oregonian reported, but it also noted that such a return was unlikely. It’s almost as if the senators’ protestations about protecting their constituents weren’t made in good faith.

Cap-and-trade itself is a pretty conservative-friendly solution, with polluters trading allowances for carbon emissions as the cap on total emissions lowers over decades. Companies decide the best way to lower emissions, and the planet doesn’t get fried. There’s a long history of Republican-backed (and often -led) cap-and-trade programs to deal with other pollution, from acid rain to leaded gasoline.

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If all of this sounds familiar, that’s because the exact same thing happened last summer. In June, Oregon’s Republican state senators went into hiding rather than voting on a cap-and-trade bill, and Governor Kate Brown dispatched state police to wrangle up the lawmakers on the lam to no avail. Violent extremist militias offered to help Republicans and issued credible threats to harm Democratic lawmakers, forcing the Oregon Capitol to close. The state Senate ultimately dropped the bill. Now, we’re back on the anti-democracy merry-go-round.

Managing editor, Earther

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