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Opposition Tactics, Protests, Stop Oregon Climate Bill … for Now

June 28, 2019

Climate Change Weekly #328

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) admitted defeat in his and Gov. Kate Brown’s attempt to force unwilling Republicans to vote on a controversial cap-and-trade bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Courtney called for the walkout to end after more than a week of contentious actions at the state capitol. First, Republicans had walked out en masse to deny the Senate a quorum to vote on the bill; second, Brown directed the state police to seize Senate Republicans and deliver them to the capitol to allow a vote; third, some Republican senators left the state to get beyond the jurisdiction of the state police; fourth, the governor closed the capitol on the recommendation of state police as protestors who supported the Republican walkout showed up and threatened to take over the building; and fifth, Courtney announced the bill is dead for now and asked Republicans to come back to work on other matters.

Oregon’s cap-and-trade bill, H.B. 2020, was modeled after California climate legislation. Under the bill the state would replace its current greenhouse gas reduction goals—goals it is projected to miss, demonstrating the difficulty of reaching even more modest emission reductions—with an emissions limit that tightens each year, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The bill would require companies emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually to purchase “allowances” every year for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The state would reduce the supply of allowances auctioned each year, with the tighter supply resulting in higher auction prices. This is intended to encourage businesses that can reduce emissions more cheaply than by purchasing allowances to do so. The state admits the rising costs of allowances or switching to less-emitting technologies will likely cause energy prices to increase.

Democrats’ supermajority in the Oregon House enabled them to steamroll Republicans and easily pass H.B. 2020. Oregon’s 30-member Senate is made up of 18 Democrats and 11 Republicans, with one open seat. Although Senate Democrats have close to a supermajority, the law requires a quorum of 20 senators to be present in order to vote on legislation. To prevent Courtney from calling a vote on the bill, Republicans walked out.

In the run-up to the legislative standoff, The Heartland Institute was at the forefront of the fight against H.B. 2020, arguing in papers and testimony before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction that the cap-and-trade bill would increase the price Oregon’s residents and businesses pay for energy, making the state less competitive economically, resulting in job loses, and hurting the poor especially.

Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Tim Benson testified that where cap-and-trade programs have been tried, as in California and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeastern states, they have raised consumers’ costs for no climate benefit.

“The Alliance of Western Energy Consumers (AWEC) submitted material to the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction stating the proposed cap-and-trade program would be responsible for ‘cumulative compliance and energy cost impacts’ exceeding $350 million by 2030 and more than $1.5 billion in 2040 for their members, who employ more than 50,000 Oregonians in industries such as ‘agriculture, aeronautics, air products, pulp and paper, food processing, information technology, health care and more,’” Benson testified. “The submission concludes that the ‘economic impacts and job losses to AWEC members and communities will likely be significant as a result of [cap-and-trade], as production in these facilities is curtailed and shifted to lower cost states.’”

Capping emissions in Oregon to fight climate change would be foolish, John Charles, president of Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute, told Fox 12 TV.

“This is probably the dumbest idea I’ve ever seen in my entire career,” said Charles. “It is a tax, it will make gasoline immediately about 20 cents per gallon more expensive—dollars more expensive in decades to come.

“We’re supposed to take one for the global team, and no benefits?” Charles said. “And pay all the costs? That’s insanity. That’s crazy.”

Senate Republicans evidently agreed, fleeing the capitol and in some instances even the state to avoid being forced to allow a vote on the plan.

Before abandoning the Senate, Republicans requested their Democratic colleagues allow Oregonians to directly vote on the cap-and-trade plan via a referendum, as voters in Washington State did when they twice rejected a carbon tax many in its legislature favored. Democrats rejected the idea.

Historically, both Democrats and Republicans have walked out during legislative sessions to prevent laws from getting a vote or to obtain concessions.  This was the second time Senate Republicans in Oregon walked out during the 2019 legislative session. Republicans walked out a few weeks ago in opposition to a multibillion-dollar business tax. That walkout ended when Brown agreed to kill bills involving vaccines and gun control.

Brown escalated the conflict when, at Courtney’s request, she directed the state police to round up Republican lawmakers and deliver them to the Senate to cement a quorum.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their back on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent here in this building,” Brown said when announcing she had called in the state police. “They need to return and do the jobs they were elected to do.”

Senate Republican leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. (Grants Pass) responded with his own statement, saying his caucus was defending constituents’ interests by preventing a vote.

“This is the only tool we have to put pressure on what’s going to happen,” said Baertschiger, in a statement. “Protesting cap-and-trade by walking out today represents our constituency and exactly how we should be doing our job.

“We have endured threats of arrest, fines. … We will not stand by and be bullied by the majority party any longer,” Baertschiger said.

While some legislators left the state to get beyond the reach of Oregon law enforcement, others, such as state senator and decorated veteran Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), stayed at home and seemingly vowed to fight state police should they come.

“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” Boquist reportedly told Travis Hampton, superintendent of the Oregon State Police, according to the Associated Press. “I’m not going to be a political prisoner in the state of Oregon. It’s just that simple.”

A day after the walkout, supporters of the move began protesting outside the capitol. After anti-government groups, including the Oregon Three Percenters, who had participated in an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, announced they would be joining the protests inside the building, Brown closed the capitol.

A couple of Democratic senators indicated to Courtney they would join Republicans in voting against the bill if it were taken up. With no end of the walkout in sight and just days left in a legislative session with more than 100 bills yet to be voted upon, Courtney signaled defeat on the cap-and-trade bill. Saying he was not sure he had the votes to pass H.B. 2020 even within his own caucus, Courtney announced on June 25 the cap-and-trade bill would not go forward in this session.

“What I'm about to say I say of my own free will,” Courtney said. “No one has told me to say this, … H.B. 2020 does not have the votes on the Senate floor. That will not change.

“Please, senators, come to this floor,” said Courtney.

Whether Republicans will heed Courtney’s request is unclear, as some senators have indicated they fear Courtney’s announcement might be a ploy by which they show up and he calls a vote on the bill.

NPR cites state Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend) as one who may continue to sit out the legislative session unless Courtney offers some guarantees.

“We need clarification. What does that mean?” Knopp told NPR. “Does it mean it’s dead until the 2020 session? Is the governor going to take it up in a special session?”

Only time will tell whether Oregon ultimately enacts a cap-and-trade bill, but for now it seems the Republicans’ tactics have paid off, preventing a vote on costly greenhouse gas restrictions until a later date.

  • H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: National Public Radio; Pittsburg Post-Gazette; Washington Times; Slate; Fox 12; The Heartland Institute; The Heartland Institute


IN THIS ISSUE …

Groups oppose carbon dioxide taxNamib desert defies climate predictionsEU backs off zero-emissions goals


GROUPS OPPOSE CARBON DIOXIDE TAX

A group of 75 conservative organizations and leaders sent an open letter to Congress expressing their opposition to any form of tax on carbon dioxide.

“We oppose any carbon tax,” says the letter from the Anti-Carbon Tax Coalition drafted by Americans for Tax Reform and signed by more than 75 individuals and groups representing the business community, retirees, taxpayers, property rights, and voter organizations, a wide swath of research institutes, including The Heartland Institute, and former federal and state legislators and agency directors.

“A carbon tax raises the cost of heating your home in the winter and cooling your home in the summer. It raises the cost of filling your car. A carbon tax increases the cost of everything Americans buy and lowers Americans’ effective take home pay. A carbon tax increases the power, cost, and intrusiveness of the government in our lives,” the letter states.

SOURCE: The Hill; Americans for Tax Reform


NAMIB DESERT DEFIES CLIMATE PREDICTIONS

Regional projections from global climate models say Namibia should be becoming hotter and its large desert region more arid, with vegetation dying. Confounding these predictions, a recent paper published in the Journal of Arid Environments finds just the opposite is occurring. The Namib Desert is gaining moisture, and plant life is expanding

Comparing more than 100 historical photos of Namibia and the Namib Desert to new photos taken at the same sites, researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cape Town found woody plant growth has increased over the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This corresponds to data from the Global Land Data Assimilation System from 1948 through 2017 which reveals the number of days with moisture has increased across the region.

As a result, the “hyper-arid” area between Namibia’s coastal “Fogbelt” and its inland savanna is shrinking as woody growth expands.

“T]hese findings … are at variance with regional climate model forecasts that project widespread aridification,” the researchers write.

SOURCE: Journal of Arid Environments (behind paywall)


EU BACKS OFF ZERO-EMISSIONS GOALS

A push by most European Union nations for the world’s biggest economic trading block to commit to going carbon-neutral by 2050 failed on June 15 over objections about the impact on the cost and supply of energy.

Under the Paris climate agreement, the EU pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the trading bloc by 40 percent below its 1990 levels by 2030.

In the EU’s last scheduled negotiations before the next climate summit in September, France and Germany pushed the 28-member EU to set an ambitious new climate goal of becoming carbon dioxide emission neutral by 2050. This would require either sharp reductions in carbon dioxide emissions or undertaking steps to remove from the atmosphere the equivalent of the amount of carbon dioxide any EU country emits.

EU estimated member states would have to invest an additional 175 billion to 290 billion euros per year in clean energy technology to meet the net-zero goal. Unanimity was needed among the EU countries to adopt those goals. With no clear plan for how the investments would be financed or how the costs would be divided, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland said no.

Lacking the consensus needed to adopt the net-zero goal, the EU instead added a footnote to its official statement, saying, “For a large majority of member states, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050.”

SOURCES: CNN; Reuters

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org