SALEM, Ore. (AP) — 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. 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 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 “vote on climate.”
Gov. Kate Brown has drawn a hard line on negotiations, saying she would only negotiate with Republicans if they return. Republicans have so far been working with Courtney behind the scenes for potential compromises, but no deal has been reached.
Brown said she expected Democrats to remain strong and believes “folks are not interested in rewarding bad behavior.” She also said the cap and trade plan would make Oregon a leader in the fight against climate change and ultimately create jobs and transform the state economy.
“We’re fighting for good public policy that will ensure that our children and our children’s children have a state and a nation and a planet they can live on,” Brown said.
Sen. Michael Dembrow, a key backer of the cap and trade plan, refused to comment in Courtney’s announcement.
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 and 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, 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.