By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

Oregon State Senate Republicans went missing Thursday to stop the Democratic supermajority from passing HB 2020 — a bill they say favors urban areas of Oregon and will damage the economy in rural areas, especially those dependent on logging and agriculture.

The Democrats can pass the bill without republican support but they could not seat a quorum or hold a vote without the Republicans.

A statement by Senate Republicans said Democrats had failed to offer a reset on House Bill 2020 during negotiations Wednesday on cap-and-trade and breached an agreement to bring Senate Republicans back to the building after the first walkout. They claim the bill should be placed on an upcoming ballot.

HB 2020 would cap carbon emissions and charge polluters for their greenhouse gas production in an effort to meet the state’s carbon emission reduction goals. Democratic lawmakers have called the bill the “Clean Energy Jobs Bill,” to emphasize the potential creation of jobs from a transition to green energy. Republicans, however, said the bill would force fossil fuel prices higher to reduce consumption.

Rep. David Brock Smith (R-Port Orford) opposes the bill and offered a bill of his own, HB 3433, which would have “provided the needed data on Oregon’s emissions and sequestration across the state,” but only one House Democrat voted to support the bill, and it was defeated. Smith said the state should have studied the emissions and sequestration data before approving a cap-and-trade bill like HB 2020.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, carbon sequestration is the process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is taken up by trees, grasses, and other plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (trunks, branches, foliage, and roots) and soils. The sink of carbon sequestration in forests and wood products offsets sources of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, such as fossil fuel emissions.

Senate Democrats vowed to fine absent lawmakers $500 a day, and Gov. Kate Brown has ordered the state to police bring them back.

“I’m begging you to come back,” Senate President Peter Courtney said Thursday. “I don’t want to send the state police. I don’t. I don’t. I have no other choice. I have no other choice.”

A statement from the governor said, “As the executive of the agency, I am authorizing the state police to fulfill the Senate Democrats’ request. It is absolutely unacceptable that the Senate Republicans would turn their backs on their constituents who they are honor-bound to represent.”

“Oregonians are hard workers. Whether we are rural or urban we show up to work every day to do the job we are paid to do. The Senate Republicans’ walkout is a slap in the face to all hardworking Oregonians, particularly to those in their districts,”

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) said.

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr. (R-Grants Pass) said, “Protesting cap-and-trade by walking out today represents our constituency and exactly how we should be doing our job.”

An official from Smith’s office said the Senate was still “under call” Thursday afternoon, with Senate Democrats on the floor calling for the Republicans to appear.

“I do not believe the state police will be able to find any of our members,” said Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “So, instead of the Democrats putting efforts into finding bipartisan solutions, their answer is to waste state police resources to try and track down legislators and arrest them. It sounds more like a dictatorship than a democracy.”

Smith said Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Whitman called Oregon’s portion of global carbon emissions “minuscule.” And Oregon Climate Services and Oregon Climate Change Research Institute Director Dr. Philip Mote said Oregon’s impact on the global climate, even if it reduced emissions to zero, would be “imperceptible.”

“Although the passage of HB 2020 will have a ‘miniscule’ or ‘imperceptible’ impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the hard-working families here today and across our state recognize that its passage will be devastating to the state’s economy and our rural communities,” Smith said.

HB 2020 would have direct effects on Curry County, according to Smith, including, higher transportation costs driven by gas taxes levied at up to 72 cents by 2030, costs he said would be exponentially greater for truckers. These costs would have to be passed on to consumers in higher prices for goods and services.

Smith offered an amendment to the bill exempting off-road agricultural and logging transportation. He said consumers would also have to pay for increases in natural gas prices as producers faced fewer allowances and as the price for those allowances increased as designed. He used nurseries and other rural businesses as examples, saying they would find it harder to compete because of higher fuel costs for warming crops or transporting product when competitors from other areas were not facing those higher costs.

“If someone in Montana — or globally — is growing products outside a cap-and-trade area, they can produce and sell products at a cheaper price,” Smith said. “This creates a serious problem.”

Sen. Dallas Heard (R-Roseburg) did not return calls or emails asking for comment.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com

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