The president of the Oregon Senate said Tuesday there weren’t enough votes in his majority Democratic caucus to approve a landmark climate bill that has sparked a walkout by Republicans and left other key issues such as the state budget in limbo.
The disclosure prompted young climate activists in the Senate chamber to turn their backs in protest against Sen. President Peter Courtney.
Meanwhile, all 11 Republican senators extended their walkout involving the issue for a sixth day, denying Democrats enough lawmakers to call a vote on the plan that calls for capping and trading pollution credits among companies.
Courtney acknowledged that the proposal faces an uncertain fate — even among Democrats. He pleaded with Republicans to return to the Capitol to consider dozens of other issues caught up in the impasse.
“This is about the 145 bills that we must pass,” he said. “I’ve done as much as I can, and I’ll continue to try. But this is a remarkable opportunity to finish our work.”
Senate Republicans didn’t immediately respond for a request to comment.
Dozens of young climate activists were in the audience as part of a larger protest against the GOP walkout. They flooded out of the Senate chamber and onto the Capitol steps, chanting “Peter Courtney’s got to go” and “protect our future, not the polluters’.”
“This is the biggest failure of public leadership in Oregon in recent memory,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of Renew Oregon, the lobbying group behind Tuesday’s climate protest. “He’s allowed a minority of Senators to dictate how business is run in our government. This not only endangers this bill, but the future of our representative democracy.”
Democratic senators spoke to hundreds of protesters who came to the capitol to protest the GOP walkout, saying that although Courtney’s comments were disappointing, Democrats are still fighting for a path forward.
“The whole world is disappointed in Oregon,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, one of the key lawmakers behind the plan. “But the whole world can become proud of Oregon. We need to stand together.”
Gov. Kate Brown has drawn a hard line on negotiations, saying she would only negotiate with Republicans if they return.
Brown said in a statement following Courtney’s comments that Republicans’ behavior “cannot be rewarded.”
“The Republicans are driving us away from the values that Oregonians hold dear, and are moving us dangerously close to the self-serving stalemate in Washington, DC,” she said.
Republicans are protesting what would be the nation’s second statewide cap and trade program after California. The measure is intended to 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.”
Conservatives say the proposal will kill jobs, raise the cost of fuel and gut small businesses in rural areas.
Republicans’ walkout drew scrutiny after a weekend that began with the Senate leader ordering the Capitol closed because of a “possible militia threat” from far-right groups, who threatened to join a peaceful protest organized by local Republicans.
One of those groups, the Oregon Three Percenters, joined an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and has offered safe passage to senators on the run.
The threat, however, never materialized. Fewer than 100 people showed up to protest.
Legislators have yet to approve a majority of the state budget and other Democratic priorities addressing affordable housing, paid family leave and driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally. Courtney painstakingly described the work left to be done before the Legislative session is set to finish at the end of the week, saying it affects “every facet” of life in Oregon.
“Please, senators, come to this floor to pass these policies and pass these budgets,” he said.