Oregon’s Top Democrats Were Blindsided by Senate President Peter Courtney’s Concession on Carbon Cap

Environmental groups are distressed: “This is not how we do things in Oregon.”

Earlier today, Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) made a surprising announcement: House Bill 2020, the cap and trade legislation that has caused Republicans to flee Salem for the past week, doesn't have the Democratic votes needed to pass.

That announcement surprised top Democrats, including Gov. Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

"The Speaker was aware there might be multiple Senate Democrats who were no votes, but was surprised that Senator Courtney made those comments today," Kotek's spokesman, Danny Moran, says in an email.

Courtney's concession sets the stage for Republican senators hiding across state lines possible return to the Capitol, but it's a bitter blow for the party that holds the super-majority.

Environmental groups are now criticizing lawmakers for failing to deliver on a bill over a decade in the making.

"Today's decision by Senate leadership to declare that HB 2020 is dead, without holding a Senate floor vote, demonstrates an extraordinary breach of faith with how our legislative process should work," Tom Kelly, chair of Oregon Business for Climate, said in a statement, "especially after years of relentless efforts by a broad coalition of supporters. This is not how we do things in Oregon."

Kelly added that supporters of the legislation believed "now was our time."

"This campaign of fear and misinformation, combined with the unconscionable walk-out by 11 Republican senators, has culminated in the tragic delay in passing this landmark legislation," Kelly said. "Climate change is upon us. Inaction is already costing us."

Other groups, like the non-profit Food and Water Watch, said that the "failed cap-and-trade bill" was a halfway measure that never did enough to address climate change, and that legislators should focus their efforts on something more progressive.

"When legislators and Governor Brown go back to the drawing board to take aim at climate change, they should ditch carbon pricing, offsets, biofuels, and other unproven, expensive technologies," Jim Walsh, an energy policy analyst with the group, said in a statement. "Instead, they should focus on reducing climate pollution at the source—a time-tested policy that has proven results."

Related: Oregon Clean Energy Jobs Bill Has Mixed Support From Environmental Justice Groups

Republicans, meanwhile, have not yet signaled when or if they will return to Salem.