Salem Reporter

Brown’s Executive Action Threat on Carbon Reduction Is Real

Governor Brown began exploring executive actions to reduce Oregon carbon emissions long before the 2019 legislature considered and ultimately failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation, according to enterprise reporting by the  Salem Reporter .

Governor Brown began exploring executive actions to reduce Oregon carbon emissions long before the 2019 legislature considered and ultimately failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation, according to enterprise reporting by the Salem Reporter.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has been working on executive actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon for more than a year, according to an enterprise story published today by the Salem Reporter.

Exploration of options was halted when it appeared the 2019 Oregon legislature was on track to adopt a cap-and-invest bill addressing industrial and transportation emissions. When House Bill 2020 faltered at the end of the legislative session, Governor Brown signaled she would look at executive actions and the DEQ vetting process resumed.

Aubrey Wieber of the Salem Reporter based her story on interviews, including with DEQ Director Richard Whitman, and an examination of public records and emails.

One of the more intriguing details in her story was a communication from Whitman to Brown five days before the legislature adjourned that outlined possible executive actions if the cap-and-invest bill failed to pass. While the bill’s demise has been publicly attributed to a Senate Republican walkout, Capitol insiders are aware Senate Democrats lacked the votes in their own caucus to pass HB 2020.

Whitman told Wieber, “We are on a pretty steady pace working on these issues at this point,” adding the agency is in frequent and often daily contact with Brown and her staff. 

The list of options included on the June 25 internal DEQ document sent to Brown describes a “gradually declining cap on industrial emissions and fossil fuel importers, strengthening Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard, increasing access to public transit and promoting biking and walking,” Wieber reports.

“DEQ also outlined ways to strengthen regulations on landfills to lower methane emissions, more strictly regulate dairies, expand vehicle inspection programs so that medium-duty trucks are inspected twice per year and require newly built buildings to include electric vehicle charging stations.” 

In earlier communications between DEQ and Brown, there was extensive discussion of suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency “to ensure Oregon maintains the authority to use executive powers to regulate polluters.”

Since her post-session comment about executive action to curb carbon emissions, Brown has remained silent on whether or when she will undertake executive action. A spokesperson said Brown prefers legislative action, but added, “She has instructed her team and agencies to explore all options to achieve Oregon’s emissions reduction goals.” 

Whitman told Wieber the “main focus of the agency’s proposal is on capping industrial emissions,” adding, “While executive action can be extremely powerful, it lacks the nuance afforded by the legislative process. Going the legislative route allows the state to be less restrictive of industry, giving it the best ‘bang for its buck.’”

One major drawback to executive action is DEQ’s inability without legislative approval to impose fees to support a carbon reduction program. Whitman said that’s why the list of options has been narrowed to the “most workable program.”

Any executive action by Brown is likely to spark opposition by industry and legislative Republicans. Wieber quotes Rep. David Brock Smith, D-Port Orford, as hinting DEQ’s budget could become a target, as early as the 2020 legislative session. Brock Smith was vice chair of the House committee that produced HB 2020 and also sits on the committee that oversees DEQ’s budget.

[The Salem Reporter is a web-based news organization that focuses on Salem-area news as well investigative stories about state and national government.]