In 2021, Oregon Senate passed a bipartisan resolution in favor of carbon pricing
By CCL Oregon volunteers
In the first half of 2021, volunteers from around the state of Oregon endeavored to pass a statewide resolution in favor of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, generating robust bipartisan support in the process.
During the previous 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, Oregon Republican legislators walked out to prevent a vote on a state cap-and-trade bill that they felt violated their principles. Future progress seemed unlikely.
“There was no positive feeling about climate at that time,” explained volunteer and seasoned climate advocate Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey.
However, CCL volunteers like Brian Ettling, as well as the Portland Grasstops team, would not give up. During the summer of 2020, Brian decided to start conversations with state legislators about the Energy Innovation Act, and in the process of soliciting from Democratic legislators who were already climate champions, he started seeing surprising results. Due to solid relationships that he had built in past legislative sessions, endorsements came rolling in quickly. By the end of November, endorsements from 20 state legislators had been secured, and more continued to come in.
As part of this process, in September of 2020, Brian met Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell to ask her for her endorsement. In addition to giving her endorsement, Rep. Mitchell proposed a statewide resolution supporting the bill. The CCL team enthusiastically agreed that it was a good idea and the resolution was drafted in Dec. 2020.
Rep. Mitchell did not run for another term in the Nov. 2020 election. Thus, she asked her friend Sen. Michael Dembrow to be the bill’s chief sponsor.
Senator Dembrow then asked Brian to come up with additional legislative co-sponsors for SJM 5. Working with CCL volunteers across Oregon, Brian succeeded in lobbying 9 Oregon Democratic Legislators to sign on as co-sponsors, including 4 Senators and 5 Representatives.
Sen. Dembrow was an enthusiastic champion and introduced the resolution on the Senate floor on Feb. 4, 2021, when it officially became known as Senate Joint Memorial 5 or SJM 5. The title specifically “urges Congress to enact bipartisan climate change legislation.” Toward the end of the resolution text, it states: “We respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to pass, and the President to sign, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.”
On Feb. 10, SJM 5 was assigned to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee for consideration. The CCL team knew SJM 5 would be in good hands since three out of five members of the committee had already endorsed the Energy Innovation Act. Senator Dembrow’s staff then contacted Brian to organize 5 CCL volunteers to give oral testimony supporting SJM 5 for a committee public hearing that happened on March 4th.
Gaining bipartisan support
In CCL fashion, Oregon state co-coordinator Daniela Brod and her fellow Portland chapter members realized that Republican support would greatly increase the impact of the resolution. They had previously met with GOP House Minority Leader Christine Drazan to talk to her about climate action and her perspective on solutions. To their delight, she was very enthusiastic about the Energy Innovation Act and, as a result of ongoing conversations and a positive relationship with new CCL volunteer Elizabeth Graser-Lindsey, Rep. Drazan became a staunch supporter of SJM5.
The Grasstops team, led by Daniela and Portland chapter co-leader and Oregon state co-coordinator, Jerry Porter, continued to work with Brian Ettling, who was a key player in communication with the legislature. Brian continued to reach out to legislators statewide. Because the team’s personal reach was limited mostly to the Portland area, they leveraged state CCL membership lists supplied by the CCL Membership team to identify constituents of legislators and work with them to schedule meetings. The members had not all been previously active with CCL and were often hesitant due to their lack of experience. But with promises of support, many agreed to contribute, and later expressed gratitude for being allowed to make a difference.
In most cases, legislators immediately agreed to meetings, including many Republicans who were often happy to be supportive. As a result of emails sent to CCL members statewide, at least 81 members emailed or called their state legislators asking them to support SJM 5. Even more, Brian had many contacts across Oregon outside of CCL that contacted their state legislators. This outreach led to commitments of strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
Passing the Senate
In her oral testimony before the Senate Energy & Environment Committee on Feb. 25, Republican Rep. Drazan stated:
“The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act is not perfect, but it is an opportunity and we shouldn’t squander it. It is an opportunity for Congress to stop playing small ball on climate.”
Immediately after her testimony, a GOP member of the committee, Sen. Lynn Findley, enthusiastically responded, “This is a great thing [and] a process that I fully support.”
On Mar. 11, Republican Sen. Findley joined the three Democratic Senators on the Energy & Environment Committee to pass SJM 5 out of committee with a recommendation “to be adopted” by the full Oregon Senate.
“We’re CCL, we’re bipartisan, so we thought the policy would be attractive to Republicans,” said Daniela Brod. One of the biggest factors attracting Republicans to the bill was the dividend, allowing all citizens to benefit from the policy and offset any potential impacts, making it feel more fair and equitable to them. Republicans also liked that SMJ 5 deals with climate at the national level instead of the state level.
SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on Apr. 7 by a vote of 23 to five, with six Republican Senators, over half of the Oregon Republican Senate caucus, joining all the Democratic Senators present to vote to support SJM 5.
Falling short in the Oregon House
On Apr. 8, SJM 5 was introduced in the Oregon House. It was then referred to the House Rules Committee. To build support for SJM 5, CCL volunteers across Oregon continued to engage with their representatives. As a result, 30 House members, including seven Republicans, co-sponsored SJM 5, representing half of the chamber. This is the equivalent of having over 215 co-sponsors on a bill heading for a vote in the US House of Representatives! CCLers were feeling confident.
Unfortunately, the news broke on Wednesday, Jun. 9 that House Democratic Leadership was not going to allow SJM 5 to have a vote in the Rules Committee or on the House floor before the 2021 Legislative session ended on Saturday, Jun. 26. Ironically, they considered SJM 5 to be “too bipartisan.” They were worried that if they allowed SJM 5 to pass, it could give Republicans in the legislature cover to tell their constituents that they were acting on climate by supporting SJM 5 while opposing climate policy bills supported by the Democrats. Sadly, the bitter rancor over the cap-and-trade bills from the previous legislative sessions had spilled over to doom SJM 5 from passing the Oregon House.
A big lesson CCL volunteers learned, Ettling shared, was the need to build stronger relationships in order to persuade the vital gatekeepers, such as the Speaker of the House and the House Majority Leader, that it was in their best interests to support the passage of SJM 5. Getting bipartisan support was crucial, but it was not enough on its own. Equally important, we learned that many Republicans are eager to support effective climate policy that aligns with their values and that we should never take anyone’s response for granted.
When SJM 5 passed the Oregon Senate on Apr. 7, it was the first legislative resolution to pass through a state legislative chamber supporting the Energy Innovation Act. Oregon CCL volunteers hope our actions can provide a template for volunteers in other U.S. states or even internationally to pass carbon pricing resolution through both chambers of a legislature in 2022 or beyond.