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Climate activists take their case to state Capitol

Organizers expect hundreds of people to push for climate legislation that drew ire of Timber Unity rally.

OREGON CAPITAL BUREAU FILE PHOTO - Students and others were part of a June 2019 rally outside the Capitol to support carbon-reduction legislation. Another rally is planned Tuesday, Feb. 11, to support a similar bill.An Oregon environmental group expects about 1,000 people to descend on the Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 11, to urge lawmakers to pass legislation addressing climate change, a proposal that drew bitter opposition from timber and farming interests last week.

PMG/EO MEDIA/SRTuesday's rally comes as lawmakers hone a proposal to set up a cap and trade system to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions and days after Timber Unity sponsored a rally that they say drew more than 1,000 trucks to the Capitol and appeared to draw over a thousand people to seek an end to the pending legislation.

Climate activists are scheduled to gather at noon and expect to embark on a march around the Capitol about a half an hour later, after hearing from a slate of guest speakers, said Sonny Mehta, field director for Renew Oregon, a coalition that advocates for clean energy and includes a slew of environmental groups, businesses, and farms.

"Our main message of the rally is we can't afford to wait any longer for climate action," Mehta said. "Oregonians are expecting the Legislature to take bold action and pass the bill without delay. And the policy that we're advocating for caps greenhouse gas emissions, prices those emissions and invests in creating good paying jobs and growing the economy."

Senate Bill 1530 would limit statewide emissions and aims to reduce them over time. The limits would apply to certain industries and major fuel importers. It carves up the emissions limit into allowances that emitters can buy and sell on a market. The idea is that as emissions targets get lower, fewer allowances are available, and industry would improve pollution controls.

Opponents have criticized the plan for its potential impact on consumers and small businesses, particularly through higher fuel costs. Recent revisions to the legislation spare counties east of the Cascades from regulations on fuel importers and provide a way for natural gas companies to guard their low-income customers against higher costs.

Grassroots groups from around the state had reached out to Renew Oregon for help organizing the rally in Salem, Mehta said. Renew Oregon has been working with local organizations like Southern Oregon Climate Action Now and PCUN, among others.

Mehta said he had talked to people who had signed up to come from as far as Pendleton and Brookings, and that volunteers and local environmental groups had been getting the word out locally for months.

Close to 2,000 people had RSVP'd online for Tuesday's rally, Mehta said, but he was "cautiously optimistic" about actual attendance.

Reporter Claire Withycombe: cwithycombe@eomediagroup.com or 971-304-4148.