Oregonians to lawmakers: climate bill a 'panic' or essential for a livable future
A hay farmer, a high school student and a physicist each told policymakers Tuesday evening what they thought of the Legislature's ambitious plan to limit, then shrink, the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
Proposed cap-and-trade legislation — Senate Bill 1530 — has a way of getting people to think about the future. They questioned at the Feb. 4 hearing what could happen to their wallets if it's enacted and, on the other side, what could happen to their children and grandchildren if it's not.
Dozens of people lined up to speak during the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources afternoon hearing. Nearly 200 people submitted written testimony to the committee. Another couple hundred letters of support and opposition also were part of the committee's record.
"This bill has put a panic through agriculture," said Mickey Killingsworth, of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau. "And I have listened to people testify today …if this bill goes through…the impacts on agriculture are going to be severe.
"I appreciate the work. I understand climate change. I just think this isn't the way to do it."
"I don't pretend to fully understand cap and trade, but I understand young people," said Carol Greenough of Tualatin. "I've worked with them all of my life. Some feel hopeless about their future, some are incredibly active to ensure that things get better, but all are scared that nothing will change. We owe it to them to do the best we can to lead in climate action. This bill does that."
Amendments alter the bill
Testimony by dozens of Oregonians on Tuesday could be divided into two camps: the first, some farmers and industry lobbyists, who testified against the proposal. The second was environmental and other activists, who praised the proposal or urged lawmakers to include stronger measures than proposed.
Late Monday night, Feb. 3, the Legislature published a round of new changes to the proposal, which has weathered substantial modification from the version proposed last year, when it imploded amid Republican absenteeism. Democrats hoped to push through the plan by March 8, when lawmakers must adjourn the "short" legislative session customary in even-numbered years.
The proposal's method for imposing regulations on fuel importers has been simplified, with companies importing fuels into the Portland metro area first to get regulated in 2022. In 2025, counties west of the Cascades, and Bend and Klamath Falls, would be included.
A revised version includes a job training program for Oregon workers to gain skills in the clean energy industry. It was an idea restored after being cut from previous versions. The bill also creates a new state board to provide financial help and home weatherization programs for people who use propane heat. Separate legislation establishes a tax credit for low- and moderate-income Oregonians who live in areas covered by the gasoline regulations, as well as refunds for off-road operations in agriculture and forestry.
Lining the hallways
By 2:30 p.m. Feb. 4, a line of people stretched out of the hearing room and into the Capitol hallways where lobbyists trade intelligence. The crowd chattered as the clock ticked toward 3 p.m., when the session's first public hearing on the cap-and-trade proposal was to begin.
Lawmakers used nearly the first couple of hours reviewing the multitude of changes to the policy with legislative counsel Maureen McGee before listening to testimony.
The crowd dwindled by 5:30 p.m., when the committee reconvened after a break to take more public testimony, each person's thoughts split into efficient, rigidly enforced two-minute blocks. By 7:30 p.m., when the hearing concluded, Hearing Room C was a far quieter place.
Despite some heated opinions, the overall mood of the hearing was fairly light, at a point in session where tensions are not yet running high. Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, jokingly offered to make himself available for more testimony on Friday, Feb. 7, which is in between days when the committee is scheduled to hear more from the public.
Advocating for children
Tuesday evening was a mild preview of the potential excitement on Thursday, Feb. 6, when the activist group Timber Unity is expected to show up at the Capitol to voice opposition to the proposal. Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, expects to allot 30 minutes for the group to testify.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is plans a Saturday, Feb. 8, hearing to allow people who work during the week a chance to testify.
Last to speak Tuesday night was Nora Lehmann, an artist, teacher and mom from Portland, and a member of PDX Families for a Livable Climate. She took a day off from work to come to the Capitol, and had to call in favors from friends to help with child care, missing preschool pickup, dinner, bath and bedtime.
"The fact that I am able to be here at all is a measure of my own economic privilege," Lehmann said. "So while of course, I am here to testify on behalf of my own beloved children, Sally who is 4, and Sydney who is 2, I would also like to take this moment to advocate for the children of parents who don't have the same privileges that I do. The parents who are too poor, too stressed, too on the edge to have any time or headspace to worry about climate change. Their sweet children also deserve a livable planet."
About 20 seconds later, the timer went off, and she "requested, demanded, begged and implored" lawmakers to take action, prompting applause from the assembled public.
Dembrow grinned, holding up his hands to stop the clapping.
Reporter Claire Withycombe: email@example.com or 971-304-4148.