Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made good on her promise to take executive action to lower the state's greenhouse gas emissions, after the legislative session ended with Republicans boycotting the final two weeks in protest of a proposed cap and trade bill.
After securing $5 million in emergency funding from a legislative Emergency Board on March 9, Brown signed an executive order the next day greenlighting regulatory action to lower emissions.
The governor's order set a new GHG reduction goal of 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, mirroring what was called for in the stalled cap-and-trade measure, Senate Bill 1530.
She also directed the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to enforce sector-specific caps on climate pollution in three of the state's largest sources of emissions—transportation, natural gas and large industrial polluters.
The executive order also doubled the state's clean-fuel standard to 20 percent by 2030, and 25 percent by 2035, reducing pollution from cars and trucks.
The order applies to more than a dozen state agencies and commissions, adding climate action as a "lens to all state agency work, making lower carbon emissions a priority," Gov. Brown said.
"Hundreds of people spent countless hours over many years collaborating on a path forward via legislation using a market-based approach known as cap-and-trade," Brown said during signing ceremony on March 10. "Republican lawmakers repeatedly walked out on the job, thwarting the democratic process."
Details of the plan will be written by state agencies, including the Oregon PUC, which will be charged with lowering GHG emissions from the utility sector.
"The PUC is in the process of carefully reviewing the Executive Order and making a plan to supplement and prioritize these and other activities to address climate change consistent with our statutory authority and independent decision-making role," Kandi Young, spokesperson for the commission said in an email to Clearing Up. "As indicated in the Executive Order, the PUC and other impacted agencies are required to report back to the Governor's Office on their plan by mid-May."
The commission will also evaluate carbon emissions "through least-cost and least risk resource planning," while also supporting utility's plans for transportation electrification and wildfire prevention and mitigation, Young said.
About $1.25 million from the $5 million approved by the legislative Emergency Board will be used to hire 10 permanent staff at the ODEQ to write new carbon regulations and conduct a public process.
The new employees will also handle "other actions with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all emissions sources, including point sources, natural gas emissions and transportation fuels," according to a legislative emergency funding order.
"I've heard it loud and clear from young people across Oregon: climate action is crucial and urgent," Gov. Brown said. "If we don't take action right away, it is the next generation that will pay the price. Neglect on our part will mean their loss. And that is simply unacceptable."
Republican leadership has pushed for letting state voters decide on the cap and trade proposal, and were outraged at the executive order.
"The Governor is ignoring Oregonians," Herman Baertschiger Jr. (R-GrantsPass) said in a statement." She is not listening to three quarters of the state or the 28 counties that signed proclamations against the cap and trade concept. It's obvious Kate Brown is not Oregon's Governor, she is Portland's Governor, and as she promised, she is serving revenge, cold and slowly."
Senate Bill 1530 called for a cap-and-trade system to lower GHG emissions levels 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
It would have gradually lowered emissions from several regulated sectors of the economy by issuing emissions allowances. Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp would have been given enough allocations between 2021 and 2030 to cover their emissions. In 2031, the direct allowances would have started to decline to reach an amount 80 percent below the average emissions in the five years preceding the passage of the bill, by 2050.
The proposal would have given NW Natural Gas direct allowances to cover 100 percent of emissions associated with its low-income residential emissions and regulated natural gas at the supplier rather than the consumer level, and direct allowances to cover 60 percent of its 2021 forecasted emissions from its industrial and commercial customers.
A spokesperson for NW Natural said the utility was "still digesting the details of the executive order and learning how it could impact our customers," and wasn't ready to comment on the executive order.
PacifiCorp was also reviewing the executive order and said it "will remain engaged as rules are developed to implement it."
"As was the case with proposed carbon legislation, Pacific Power supports an outcome that moves Oregon forward on climate without adding undue costs for customers and communities through higher electricity bills," the company said in a statement emailed to Clearing Up.
A spokesman for PGE said the utility was also reviewing the executive order.
"We share Governor Brown's sense of urgency on climate change," the utility said in statement emailed to Clearing Up. "This is having very real and immediate impacts here in Oregon and around the globe, so it is essential we reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically on an economy-wide basis - and we are reviewing Governor Brown's executive order on climate with that in mind. We need to understand the specifics and how the order might affect our customers before we can offer detailed comment."
While state agencies work on regulations to lower emissions, it appears likely that Republicans and business groups will mount a legal challenge to the governor's executive order.
"I think this is going to get us in a lawsuit," Baertschiger Jr. said, during a meeting of the Emergency Board.
Partnership for Oregon Communities, a coalition of businesses, chambers of commerce, manufacturers and the Oregon Farm Bureau, said "Oregonians should be deeply concerned that the Governor has taken this approach."
"This executive order is based on questionable legal authority and will undoubtedly end up in court, putting taxpayers on the hook for thousands of dollars in litigation costs," the group added. "It's also likely to result in a cap-and-trade style program that leaves consumers and businesses alike paying higher prices for everyday goods and services."