There are plenty of symbolic ways to describe Republican State Sen. Cliff Bentz’s campaign to convince his Democratic colleagues that a bill intended to reduce Oregon’s carbon emissions will harm the state’s economy, especially in rural Eastern Oregon, far more than it will help the environment.

He’s failing to gain traction.

His voice is being drowned out by louder ones.

Or, if you prefer an option with a bit more literary cachet, Bentz is tilting against windmills.

But however quixotic his quest, Bentz, whose district includes Baker County, deserves credit for his efforts on behalf of our county and region.

House Bill 2020 hasn’t gotten as much attention recently as it did earlier in the legislative session, being supplanted by more pressing matters such as the recent walkout of Senate Republicans and their subsequent compromise with the majority Democrats.

But the low profile was only temporary. The bill’s backers haven’t lost their enthusiasm for the idea.

Nor has Bentz given up on his goal of, if not quashing the legislation — something he has acknowledged is unlikely — then at least mitigating its effects on his district.

Those effects could be severe.

Bentz has estimated that the bill, if it becomes law, could result in gas prices rising by about 15 cents.

During a public hearing in March in Baker City, officials from Ash Grove Cement, one of Baker County’s largest private employers and property taxpayers, told lawmakers that the company wouldn’t be able to operate its Durkee plant and meet the law’s requirements.

Bentz doesn’t mince words when talking about HB 2020, telling The Malheur Enterprise newspaper recently that, without significant changes, he believes the legislation “will be a disaster for this part of the state.”

His latest trial balloon is a five-year exclusion from the bill’s mandates for an area including Malheur County and the southeastern part of Baker County, including the Huntington area.

Other amendments would help to insulate various types of companies, including Ash Grove Cement’s Durkee plant, from the requirements of HB 2020.

Bentz’s fears aren’t limited to how the bill could harm industrial concerns, either. He has also pointed out that by boosting fuel prices, the legislation could put Oregon fuel suppliers at a major, perhaps crippling, disadvantage with Idaho businesses that are, in some cases, just a few miles away.

Ideally, Democrats in Salem would recognize that any bill which could doom thriving businesses unless it’s larded with exemptions, and that would have a minuscule environmental benefit, is not responsible legislation.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In the meantime Bentz is doing what his constituents elected him to, which is to defend their interests.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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