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Militia threat shuts down Oregon Capitol amid walkout by Republican lawmakers

GOP lawmakers fled the Legislature to prevent a vote on a climate change bill.
Image: Oregon lawmakers
The Oregon House of Representatives at the Capitol, which was closed Saturday because of a possible militia threat.Andrew Selsky / AP file

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Capitol was closed Saturday because of a "possible militia threat" from right-wing protesters as a walkout by Republican lawmakers over landmark climate change legislation dragged on.

Republican state senators fled the Legislature — and some, the state — earlier this week to deny the majority Democrats enough votes to take up the climate bill, which would dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions by 2050. If passed, it would be the second program of its kind in the nation after California.

Gov. Kate Brown dispatched state police to round up the lawmakers.

A small group of people demonstrated outside the Capitol on Saturday to support the walkout, and a larger demonstration was expected Sunday.

The Oregon Capitol was closed Saturday after a possible militia threat by supporters of Republican lawmakers who fled the Legislature to avoid a vote on a climate change bill that is extremely unpopular with loggers, truckers and many rural voters.Gillian Flaccus / AP

The Capitol was closed on the recommendation of Oregon State Police, after anti-government groups threatened to join a protest planned inside the building.

One of the groups, the Oregon Three Percenters, had joined an armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Dozens of people occupied the remote Oregon refuge for more than a month to protest federal control of Western lands. The standoff began to unravel when authorities fatally shot the group's spokesman and arrested key leaders as they headed to a community meeting.

Right-wing groups posted their support for the GOP lawmakers on social media — in one instance offering to provide escorts to them should the state police come for them.

A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans did not respond to queries about the statehouse closure.

Democrats have an 18 to 12 majority in the chamber, but they need 20 members present for a quorum. One GOP senator recently died and has not yet been replaced.

Under the proposed cap-and-trade bill, Oregon would put an overall limit on greenhouse gas emissions and auction off pollution "allowances" for each ton of carbon industries plan to emit. The legislation would lower that cap over time to encourage businesses to move away from fossil fuels: The state would reduce emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Those opposed to the cap-and-trade plan say it would exacerbate a growing divide between the liberal, urban parts of the state and the rural areas. The plan would increase the cost of fuel, damaging small business, truckers and the logging industry, they say.

Democrats say the measure is an efficient way to lower emissions while investing in low-income and rural communities' ability to adapt to climate change. It has the support of environmental groups, farmworkers and some trade unions.

California has had for a decade an economy-wide cap and trade policy like the one Oregon is considering. Nine northeastern states have more limited cap-and-trade programs that target only the power sector.