Timber industry workers rally in Salem to protest cap and trade bill

Timber industry workers and their supporters gather on the steps of the Oregon capitol on June 19, 2019 to protest House Bill 2020, a cap and trade bill intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They say the bill would harm their industry. (Photo Courtesy: KATU)

SALEM, Ore. (KATU) – Workers from Oregon’s logging industry rallied at the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest House Bill 2020.

"No on 2020!! No on 2020!!" the crowd gathered on the Capitol steps shouted.

The bill sets a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, but critics say it will lead to increased fuel prices, mass layoffs, and closed businesses.

"It allows large corporations to keep polluting at the cost of us working people," said Vernonia logger Mike Pihl. "They will be buying carbon credits from the state forestry, and it will shut down logging, milling. The way we know rural life will be gone."

If passed, the bill would become the nation’s second economy-wide cap and trade program. The plan passed the House Monday.

Supporters say Canada and California have both passed similar laws without some of the impacts opponents fear.

"You know, a lot of the concerns that I think we’ve heard from folks have not panned out when the legislation went into effect," said Dylan Kruse of Sustainable Northwest. "Gas prices have not skyrocketed. Power prices have not skyrocketed. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite. We’ve seen prices go down."

Oregon Senate Republicans are threatening to block the vote.

“Senate Republicans are willing to stay in the building and suspend the rules to pass all budget bills and do the work of the people. However, we are prepared to take action to stop HB 2020,” Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr., R-Grants Pass, said in a statement Tuesday. “The bill makes the urban-rural divide stronger than ever because the biggest polluters are in Oregon’s large cities. It is fundamentally inequitable to put the responsibility of cleaning up their pollution on the backs of rural Oregonians.”

If the state passes the cap and trade program, it would put an overall limit on greenhouse gas emissions and auction off pollution "allowances" for each ton of carbon that industries plan to emit. This means that under the system, industries would be required to buy an allowance for each ton of anthropogenic greenhouse gases they emit and the allowances will go down over time.

The revenue generated from the purchased allowances would be used to fund emission-reduction programs and help communities adapt to a low-carbon economy.

“I am dismayed it has taken so long to convince people that we need to start addressing this problem head on and sooner, rather than later. The costs of inaction will continue to grow the longer we wait. We are actually experiencing some of the worst fears that we only spoke about in theory a decade ago,” said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who supports the cap and trade bill.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown said she’s disappointed in hearing the Senate Republicans’ indications of holding a walkout.

“It’s not only dishonest, it violates the oaths they took to speak for their constituents as well as the word they gave to their colleagues and to me,” she said in a statement.

She said her office is preparing for a special session to be held on July 2 in case the Senate does not conclude in time. She also said she'd be willing to mobilize the state police.

Brown has applauded the House’s decision to pass the cap and trade bill.

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