Oregon Governor Takes Executive Action on Climate Change

Two days after we covered the Oregon legislature's failure to enact a controversial climate bill, Governor Kate Brown took matters into her own hands and ordered sweeping new agency actions to address climate change. The Executive Order comes on the heels of SB 1530's demise, the cap-and-trade bill that failed in the legislature after Republican lawmakers walked out of the Oregon State Capitol in protest, depriving the Democratic super-majority of a quorum to vote on the bill. Governor Brown's Order references that "thwarted legislative action" as one of the grounds for taking executive action.

The Order is directed at stationary sources, the transportation industry, and the energy production industry. It calls for Oregon to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at least 45 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2035 and at least 80 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2050.

To get there, the Order includes a list of both general and specific directives to state agencies. Among its many measures, the Order calls for revising Oregon's clean fuel standards; clean fuel credits for electrification; more energy-efficient buildings and products standards; sector-specific GHG cap and reduce programs; expedited electrification of the transportation industry; regulation of landfill methane emissions; reduction of food waste; and natural carbon sequestration goals.

Much of the regulatory work will be centered in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which will be responsible for establishing caps on emissions from transportation fuels, natural gas, and other emitters to meet state goals. But the expansive scope of the 14-page Order is reflected in the fact that it identifies 16 state commissions and state agencies – ranging from Business Oregon to the Public Utility Commission – that are subject to the Order's directives. The Order calls for 10 of those agencies to report to the Governor by May 15, 2020, on "proposed actions within their statutory authority to reduce GHG emissions and mitigate climate change impacts."

The Order's directives to the Public Utility Commission are particularly notable. Among other things, the Order directs the PUC to determine whether "utility portfolios and customer programs reduce risks and costs to utility customers by making rapid progress towards reducing GHG emissions"; to prioritize proceedings that "advance decarbonization in the utility sector, and exercise its broad statutory authority to reduce GHG emissions, mitigate energy burden experienced by utility customers, and ensure system reliability and resource adequacy"; and to establish proceedings to address and mitigate differential energy burdens and other inequities of affordability and environmental justice.

Interested stakeholders on both sides were quick to react to the news of the Order, with environmental groups praising the Governor's action while some industry groups and Republican lawmakers are already promising to challenge the legality of the Order in court. In addition, many of the implementing rules that will result from the Order could draw legal challenges from industry groups.

As events unfold, we will report on any litigation and examine the reports submitted by the 10 agencies on May 15, so stay tuned!