Kate Brown

Gov. Kate Brown, flanked by students and supporters, as she prepares to sign a sweeping order on climate change.

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday directed state agencies to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions through more stringent standards for fuels, new buildings and consumer appliances, imposing by executive order what she couldn’t get from the Legislature.

Her order doesn’t exempt any portion of the state from the mandates, a considerable change from legislation that would have spared rural Oregon and some industries.

The impact on fuel prices and other costs for consumers and businesses won’t be clear until state agencies undergo a process that’ll spell out how Brown’s order is implemented.

Under legislative proposals, rural legislators and interests contended that fuel prices would go up, imposing a heavy burden on agriculture and areas of the state where long travel distances are the norm. State agencies weren’t prepared Tuesday to address what would happen under Brown’s order.

“While we are directing agencies to take these efforts to drive down emissions consistent with state goals, the precise policy design and how it’s implemented are to be determined,” said Kristen Sheeran, director of the Oregon Carbon Policy Office.

She said that only then could estimates develop on impacts on prices. Under the order, state agencies are directed to report back in May on specific actions they can legally undertake.

Brown made the move in response to the Legislature — crippled by Republican walkouts — adjourning last weekend without passing legislation aimed at climate change.

The order updates Oregon’s existing emission-reduction goals in line with the goals drafted by legislators. She wants a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2035 and an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050.

The scuttled legislation would’ve created a market where businesses could buy permits to emit greenhouse gases and sell extras they didn’t need. The legislation would’ve phased in requirements while providing credits and exemptions to low-income families and businesses exposed to international competition.

Unlike the legislation, Brown’s order doesn’t take an economywide approach and instead gives direction to specific state agencies.

“Significant change doesn’t have to take the form of a single step,” Brown, a Democrat, said at a press conference. “It can happen when several separate actions add up. And that’s what I’m doing today.”

The 14-page order directs the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to reduce emissions. The order directs the department to expand the state’s existing low-carbon fuel program, which is designed to gradually reduce emissions from gas, diesel and others.

Specifically, the order seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks 20% by 2030 and 25% by 2035.

Industry groups critical

Partnership for Oregon Communities issued a statement saying that the order gives the governor few options for “blunting the most negative impacts” of her order and gives power to “unelected bureaucrats who will have the authority to regulate virtually every sector of our state’s economy.”

“At the end of the day, her directive could lead to a cap-and-trade style program that is far more sweeping than any proposal contemplated by the Legislature in recent years and will inevitably lead to significant cost increases for consumers and businesses alike, while offering little in the way of meaningful environmental benefits,” the group said in a statement.

Lobbyists for the Oregon Fuels Association didn’t comment on what the order will mean for fuel prices. But, in a statement, the association said that it worked with legislators and the governor on the most recent legislative proposal to protect customers from significant increases in fuel costs.

The new order doesn’t contain the same cost-containment measures.

“This approach pushes groups like OFA, that have worked to improve the policy, into a firm defensive position,” the statement said. “We are currently reviewing the EO, but are prepared to use any tools at our disposal (including legal means) to protect our small businesses and their customers.”

The order also directs the commission to “cap and reduce” greenhouse gas emission from industrial sources, transportation fuels and other sources, such as natural gas.

Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Harry Esteve said that there were no estimates on what this will mean for consumer prices. “It’s in the very early stages,” he said.

The order directs the state Public Utility Commission to consider measures aimed at rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Sheeran said that the governor’s office doesn’t have the authority to tell the commission how to make decisions, but can direct it to consider the reductions.

Additionally, the order directs the state’s Building Codes Division to increase energy-efficiency requirements for new buildings. It also instructs the Oregon Department of Energy to require appliances to have at least the highest energy-efficiency standards in the country, which Sheeran said would benefit consumers.

On Monday, the legislative Emergency Board voted to direct $5 million to the Department of Environmental Quality to begin drafting rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The allocation would be used to hire 10 new positions. During Monday’s Emergency Board meeting, Richard Whitman, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, said that the new hires would help complete initial rule-making for a greenhouse gas reduction program by 2022. That’s roughly the same timeline laid out in the bill killed last session to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A statewide program to cap greenhouse gas emissions has been a priority for Brown and Democrats who hold lopsided majorities in the Legislature. But previous attempts were stymied after Republicans walked out of the Capitol in the last two sessions, denying lawmakers a quorum to conduct business.

Brown’s move was welcomed by Democratic legislative leaders and environmental groups, but was criticized by Republicans.

“This is not only an abuse of power, it shows how out of touch the governor is with the pressing needs of families and communities across the state,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, in a statement.

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. has questioned the governor’s move, saying it would open the state to an expensive lawsuit. “The governor is ignoring Oregonians,” the Grants Pass Republican said. “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.”

Brown said that her order had been carefully vetted to ensure it was in compliance with state law and the constitution.

Environmental groups cheer

After a similar bill failed to pass during the 2019 legislative session, a coalition of businesses environmental groups and others called Renew Oregon began preparing a greenhouse gas reduction initiative for the 2020 ballot.

Renew Oregon applauded Brown’s move in a statement following her announcement.

“Oregonians have organized, advocated, worked and voted for years demanding our state take bold action to reduce climate pollution, improve our health, and transition to clean energy. Gov. Brown delivered today with strong and comprehensive action,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of Renew Oregon. “This action will hold large corporate polluters accountable for the pollution they create. We all have a responsibility to do our part and most of us do, now it’s time for large polluters to start doing theirs.”

Brad Reed, spokesman for Renew Oregon, said the group is considering whether to move forward with its ballot initiatives or withdraw them. He said the group will consider if the ballot initiatives overlap with the governor’s order and if they accomplish the same goals.

The Oregon Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group and Salem Reporter.

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(1) comment

Slappy McFerrin

This is nothing more than a shameless fleecing of the masses, a massive backdoor tax that can't possibly have any measurable effect on the climate. It's simply an impossibility when you run the numbers. Oregon accounts for less than 1/10 of a percent of global CO2 emissions. If we could magically take that contribution down to 0% (which of course would violate some unbendable laws of physics), it would have no impact on our climate. None. Zip. Zero. Nada. Even Oregon's DEQ director, who is a supporter of cap n' scam, admitted as much when questioned on the merits of HB2020.

With this knowledge, why on Crom's green Earth would Brown and friends want to throw the citizens of (primarily rural) Oregon on a sword? Especially considering air quality due to smog is typically only a problem in Portland? It's because they have you all fooled. They're well aware this will not effect climate in anyway. They're also aware of the huge influx of money (secret tax dollars) it will generate, at least until our economy collapses all together. It's pure evil. Brown's twisted grin at the signing ceremony says it all.

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