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How rogue Republicans killed Oregon’s climate-change bill

Carolyn Kormann reports:

Early Tuesday morning, in Oregon, Shilpa Joshi, the coalition director of Renew Oregon, a clean-energy advocacy organization, rented a minivan from a lot on the outskirts of Portland, picked up a group of high-school students, and headed for the state capitol building, in Salem, where they’d be staging a protest. She was anxious and deeply concerned. “This might be a really sad day for us,” she said, en route. A major climate-change bill, which she had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence. “Our bill might die,” Joshi said. “What these senators are doing is anarchistic. It’s scary. There are no rules anymore.”

In Salem, Joshi and her high-school group, along with other young activists, staged a sit-in outside the office of the Senate president, the Democrat Peter Courtney. Joshi and other organizers had heard that Courtney was prepared to trade away the bill in order to bring the Republicans back to the statehouse. “For him to just undercut us that way was a real blow,” she said. “We fought for so long and created a really strong program with pretty broad support across the state.” The oldest farm workers’ union in the state, for instance, joined Renew Oregon’s steering committee, in part because of “the immense pressures that climate impacts put on their workers,” Joshi said. (The average life expectancy of an Oregon farmworker is forty-nine years.) After lengthy negotiations, public meetings, and citizens’ comments, the bill also gained backing from all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, the state’s electric utilities, who were, at first, opposed, and corporations in the state including Nike and Uber. As of eleven days ago, widespread consensus existed that the bill would pass. “We had the votes last week,” the state senator Michael Dembrow, one of the bill’s co-authors, told me on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

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