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Jun-27-2019 15:32printcomments

Shame and Blame As Oregon Climate Bill Collapses

The runaway Senators are also preventing the Senate from attending to important issues, like the state budget.

Oregon Capitol
Oregon Capitol, photo by Bonnie King

(SALEM, Ore.) - The Oregon Senate found itself at the center of national and international news on Thursday June 25th, as a landmark climate bill failed to pass during farcical scenes, and blame was passed everywhere by the furious senators who attempted to pass the bill.

The House Bill 2020, sponsored by the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction, has long been a source of tension within the Senate, splitting politicians not only on Democratic and Republican lines, but those who represent the interests of urban and rural districts.

In truth, the bill has appeared doomed for some time. As it became apparent that no way forward could be found that would please everybody, eleven Republican senators took the dramatic step of walking out of the Senate the previous week, thus denying their Democratic colleagues the chance to vote on the issue.

In the process of blocking the planned vote, those same senators now stand accused of preventing the Senate from attending to other important issues, such as the state budget.

Noble Intentions

As with most climate bills, the objective of the hotly-debated bill was to introduce targets on cutting harmful waste, and also capping activity that's likely to lead to harm.

The bill's specific focus was on capping carbon emissions, and encouraging business to consider their approach to harmful pollution by having to trade or buy 'pollution credits' from each other once their own allowances had been exceeded. A similar scheme has proven to be successful in California, and it was hoped that Oregon would become the second of the nation's states to adopt such measures.

With the bill now held up - and apparently dead according to some sources - it remains to be seen what environmental measures may be approved by the Senate to address what is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues facing the current and next generations.

Without stricter environmental regulations, politicians could be accused of gambling with the future of the environment and the local ecology. Politicians across the country have long been accused of allowing oil and other polluting companies to treat the planet like an UK online casino, paying in and taking out profit after profit when they hit a jackpot of fossil fuels. This isn't a gamble on UK slots that anybody would enjoy, though.

The environment isn't a slot game, and if we don't take the necessary steps, we may soon find that the only 'winnings' we receive are dirty water and rising temperatures. Successful casino game players count their winnings. The next generation, without support via successful policy, will likely be left paying the cost.

Lush Oregon beauty Photo by Bonnie King

The Usual Suspects?

As could be widely predicted, it’s the Republican senators who hid from the debate who have attracted the harshest criticism for the failure of the bill, but it now seems like there may be another side to the tale. According to some international sources, support for the bill began to wane from the Democratic side at the eleventh hour, forcing Peter Courtney - the sitting Democratic Senate President - to confirm that the bill no longer commanded the necessary support on the Senate floor to pass under any circumstances.

His announcement was met with anger from young climate activists, some of whom were inside the chamber when it was made. They turned their backs as Courtney spoke, and then later gathered on the steps of the Capitol, chanting slogans against Courtney and calling for his resignation. Right now.

It’s unknown what prompted the shift in support from Democrats so late in the debate, but it may be the case that they came to share some of the concerns voiced by the Republicans.

Senior figures like Herman Baertschiger had warned that the bill would inevitably increase the costs that some companies faced, which would in turn lead on to either job losses or rises in the cost of fuel. In rural areas, there were fears that some smaller businesses might be forced into closure.

Some Democrats, including Gov. Kate Brown, appeared to blame some on their own side for the bill's failure, stating that Democrats who had agreed to private talks with the absent Republicans were 'rewarding undemocratic behavior' and eroding support. Others, including Ginny Burdick, said that the bill didn't have the required levels of support even before the Democrats walked out, and so the current standoff amounted to a damaging waste of time.

Returning To Pressing Business

With the bill now dead - at least in its current form - it's now hoped that the Republicans will return to work and focus on delivering an agreeable state budget. At the time of writing, the bulk of the budget is yet to be approved, and time is running out for the current Legislative session.

Vital matters including housing costs, paid leave for workers, issues with driver's licenses and immigration matters are all tied up within the budget, and majority approval must be secured in the time available to avoid further political complications.

Seemingly wanting to move on from the failure of the bill he promoted - and the protesters calling for his head - Courtney has been the first to speak up and encourage the Republicans to return to the Senate, stating that the issues which still need to be discussed will affect 'every facet' of Oregon life if the required work isn't done immediately.

With several dozen policies still to be debated, discussed, and voted upon before the end of the Legislative session, it’s hard to see how all of the outstanding bills will be passed or rejected in the time available.

It’s expected that bills will be prioritized, but as (as we’ve seen this week) it’s hard to achieve quorum on what is and isn’t a priority issue, even the process of prioritizing the bills may be a time consuming and problematic manner. It seems inevitable that something important will be left out.

The disappointed climate activists who gathered on the steps of the Capitol have vowed to continue protesting until the bill - or one like it - is brought back. Courtney has said he remains committed to the spirit of the bill, and try again.

If, by the time the bill is back in front of the Senate, the other issues haven’t been dealt with, it may be that climate protesters aren’t the only ones criticizing his ability to deliver.

Source: Special Features Dept.


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