SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Monday that she’s ready to use her executive power to lower carbon emissions following a nine-day Republican walkout that derailed landmark climate legislation and embroiled the state in a political crisis pitting liberal cities against rural residents.
The Democratic governor said she wants to move forward through the executive branch if lawmakers can’t approve meaningful climate legislation. She directed her staff to go back to rural communities and industries over the next few months to find points of compromise on what would be the nation’s second statewide cap and trade program.
Brown will present lawmakers with proposed “modifications” to the plan but is prepared to take the matter into her own hands if she still can’t find a path forward in the Statehouse.
“Working on legislation is my preferred approach,” she told reporters. “However, given the uncertainty that now permeates Oregon’s political system, I am also directing my staff and agencies to explore alternative paths.”
Two representatives for the Senate’s Republican caucus didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment on the governor’s plans.
The proposal caps climate-changing emissions and requires businesses to buy or trade an ever-dwindling pool of pollution credits or “allowances.” California has a similar program.
The idea divided the Statehouse and revealed lingering tensions between liberal cities like Portland that want to combat climate change and rural areas of the state where the legislation was seen as a further threat to industries like farming, logging and trucking.
Senate Republicans walked out to block a vote on the measure and only came back after getting reassurances it was dead. They said the legislation would kill jobs, raise the cost of fuel and gut small businesses in rural areas. Loggers, truckers and others flooded the Capitol to support the Republicans who walked out.
Democrats say the legislation is critical to make Oregon a leader in the fight against climate change and will ultimately create jobs and transform the economy.
They said the program would raise tens of millions of dollars that would go toward further emissions-cutting projects and wildfire prevention efforts. Much of the funding also would flow directly to rural communities and Native American tribes to prepare for the worst effects of climate change, supporters say.
“This is a priority,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of Renew Oregon, the lobbying group behind the original legislation. “It is our moral imperative we do not delay another year. Climate change is an emergency.”
Brown has a tough path forward if she wants to craft legislation that both responds to industry concerns and still puts Oregon on a path toward meeting its ambitious goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The original cap and trade proposal would have begun in 2021 and put the state on track to lower emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below by 2050.
Delaying the program could mean lawmakers will need to craft a more ambitious and aggressive program to meet the state’s emission goals.
Brown said it would have been better for industries and other opponents to come to the table rather than “blow the whole thing up.” She said delaying the process further is like “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”
“This program will have to be more aggressive,” the governor said. “Because the time pressures are still there and I’m committed to keeping those goals for our children and our children’s future.”
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