cap-and-trade legislation

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.]

 

Senate Republicans Might Reprise Their Walkout Strategy in 2020

The 2019 Oregon legislative session was jolted by two Senate Republic walkouts that wound up deep-sixing three separate bills, including cap-and-trade legislation. Could another walkout occur in the 35-day 2020 legislative session? Maybe. (Photo Credit: Justin Katigbak/Willamette Week)

The 2019 Oregon legislative session was jolted by two Senate Republic walkouts that wound up deep-sixing three separate bills, including cap-and-trade legislation. Could another walkout occur in the 35-day 2020 legislative session? Maybe. (Photo Credit: Justin Katigbak/Willamette Week)

Oregonians, politicians and the news media are still buzzing about the nine-day Senate GOP walkout just before adjournment of the 2019 legislative session. The question now is whether another walkout could happen in the short 2020 legislative session that starts next February if Democrats try again to pass a cap-and-trade bill.

The 12-member Senate GOP caucus staged two walkouts in the 2019 session. The first one, in protest of the $1 billion Student Success Act, didn’t stop the bill they protested, but did sink two other major pieces of legislation dealing with gun regulations and vaccination exemptions.

The second, longer walkout was aimed at sidetracking the cap-and-trade bill. It succeeded. Senate Republicans returned to the Capitol with just enough time to pass budget bills and a few Democratic priority bills before the June 30 midnight deadline. No special session was needed.

Republican leaders rationalized their walkouts as their only way to counter the Democratic supermajority that controlled the Senate 18-12. The walkouts denied Democrats the 20-member quorum required to conduct a floor session, delaying as many as 100 Senate floor votes.

The walkouts drew national media attention, in part because of comments by Senator Brian Boquist that were construed as physical threats. While legislative Democrats and Governor Brown were fuming over the walkout, there appeared to be a fervent wave of support from rural Oregon.

Immediately after sine die of the 2019 legislative session, Brown vowed not to give up on cap-and-trade legislation, even if she had to resort to executive action. Her post-session speech may have increased the odds of a Senate Republican walkout next year. 

Oregon has seen legislative walkouts before. When she was the Senate Democratic Leader in 2001, Brown expressed support for a walkout by House Democrats to protest the way majority Republicans were addressing legislative redistricting. But previous walkouts were more like expressions of discontent than strategic parliamentary maneuvers. Senate Republicans have suddenly discovered they have power they didn’t realize they possessed. Democrats made the same discovery, but belatedly.

What happens next on cap-and-trade, as well as other Democratic priorities, may determine the likelihood of a walkout in the 2020 session. The potential of a walkout in a constitutionally limited 35-day session is its own political deterrent. During a short session, timelines are compressed and a similar nine-day walkout would cripple the Capitol and the ability to accomplish any major priority.

Political commentators tend to focus on the power of majorities in legislatures and in Congress. They overlook the power of minorities, especially ones led by people who can count heads, know the rules and keep their ranks in line. The congressional Freedom Caucus repeatedly demonstrated its power by extracting concessions from the previous House GOP leadership or forcing it to find the votes it needed in the Democratic caucus. Senate Republicans may be looking to do the same thing in the Oregon legislature. 

Without fear of re-election retribution and with the support of major campaign financial backers, Senate Republicans have few to zero roadblocks to employing their walkout strategy again. 

Democrats may have exhausted their ability to agree to more amendments that further water down House Bill 2020 without risking greater opposition from environmental advocates who disagree “something is better than nothing.” They could agree to send a version of cap-and-trade legislation to voters, which might take the issue off the table in the 2020 session.

In a piece from July 4, Oregon Capital Insider author Dick Hughes argued that "reflective listening" is needed by the Democratic supermajority if they hope to avoid a second Senate Republican walkout and rally of truckers, farmers and loggers in efforts to pass a new version of HB 2020 in the short session.

The reason the 2017 transportation package was successful, Hughes said, was that legislative leaders established a bipartisan process early on and developed ideas from both sides of the aisle. The measure received bipartisan votes and wasn’t referred to voters. 

Is there such a path forward for major carbon policy? Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, has dropped hints there is if Republicans are given a chance to influence the shape of the legislation. There isn’t a lot of productive time between now and the 2020 short session for a bipartisan reset. There may not even be a bipartisan appetite to try, which could make another walkout a distinct parliamentary possibility.