Climate standoff: Why are Republicans in Oregon AWOL?

The Associated Press
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Climate Conflict Oregon

In this photo taken Sunday, June 23, 2019, a small crowd of local Republicans show their support of a Republican walkout outside the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. The gathering took place only a day after the Senate President ordered the statehouse to close over a "possible militia threat," the latest escalation in a Republican walkout over proposed climate policy that has put Democrats' top legislative priorities at risk. (AP Photo/Sarah Zimmerman)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Republican state senators in Oregon left the Capitol — and in some cases, the state — last week to try to derail landmark climate legislation being pushed by Democrats. The dispute shows no signs of ending soon.

WHAT'S THE DISAGREEMENT ABOUT?

Democrats want to pass a cap and trade measure, which would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases in Oregon by 2050 by capping carbon emissions and requiring businesses to buy or trade for an ever-dwindling pool of pollution "allowances." The legislation would lower that cap over time to encourage businesses to move away from fossil fuels.

REPUBLCANS SAY THEIR VOICES AREN'T BEHING HEARD

The GOP says majority Democrats aren't listening to their ideas about the cap and trade bill, which they say would exacerbate a growing divide between the liberal, urban parts of the state and the rural areas. The plan, they say, would increase the cost of fuel, damaging small business, truckers and the logging industry.

NOT SO, SAY DEMOCRATS

Democrats say the bill includes provisions to mitigate its effect on rural communities and certain businesses. And they counter that it's the GOP that isn't showing good faith by going back on a deal that was struck earlier this year, in which Democrats say Republicans promised not to stage another walkout in exchange for concessions on other legislation. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown dispatched the state police to round up the rogue lawmakers after they skipped town on June 20. It's believed some GOP senators went to Idaho and Montana. The state police has no jurisdiction outside Oregon.

WHY IS THE LEGISLATURE STALLED?

Democrats in Oregon have a rare supermajority in the House and Senate, meaning Republicans don't have many ways to influence the debate. Democrats have an 18 to 12 majority in the Senate, but they need 20 members present for a quorum. So they need at least two Republicans to show up before any legislative action can be taken.

WHY IS THIS ATTRACTING SO MUCH ATTENTION?

The president of the Oregon Senate ordered the state Capitol to close on Saturday due to a "possible militia threat" from right-wing protesters who said they'd show up at a previously scheduled rally in support of the GOP lawmakers. One of the groups, the Oregon Three Percenters, joined an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Dozens of people occupied the remote Oregon refuge for more than a month to protest federal control of Western lands. Ultimately a small, peaceful rally took place Saturday at the state Capitol under a heavy police presence.