Governor threatens to do by rule what she couldn’t by legislation

Gov. Brown riles up advocates for cap and trade after Senate President Peter Courtney declared House Bill 2020 dead. (Claire Withycombe/Oregon Capital Bureau)

Less than 24 hours after the 2019 Legislature closed, Gov. Kate Brown renewed the fight for a cap and trade program, saying Monday she might act with her executive authority to drive ahead with the hotly contested environmental policy.

“Let me be very, very clear,” Brown said. “I am not backing down.”

She spoke on the heels of a major political collapse last week, when Senate Republicans doomed a vote on House Bill 2020. The legislation, setting up a market-based credit system to force polluting industries to reform, had passed the House and was one vote away in the Democratically controlled Senate from becoming state law.

Brown wasn’t taking her most significant legislative loss lightly.

Brown said she wants to see action sooner than later, and is open to calling a special session to again advance the legislation.

“I believe the bill needs some fine-tuning, but I don’t think it needs to be entirely rebuilt,” she said.

Brown said she campaigned on cap and trade, as did many Democratic legislators elected in November. Recent polling shows climate legislation is popular among Oregonians, though more so in urban areas. Her plan was backed by most Oregon voters, she said.

Brown’s proclamation was immediately praised by environmental groups, still smarting from the sudden and unexpected death of HB 2020.

“This effort is not over, and not over for this year,” said Renew Oregon spokesman Brad Reed. “That is extremely inspiring.”

Renew is a coalition that has been the main special interest behind cap and trade, rounding up more than 800 businesses to endorse the proposal.

Renew’s staff and lobbyists worked extensively with legislative leaders on the bill. Now, with Brown taking the leading role in the charge for cap and trade, Reed said his group will be as involved in the politics ahead as she lets them.

Behind the recent opposition was wildly effective messaging hitting the prevalent themes of ever-expanding government and favoritism of urban elites: The bill would decimate rural economies while flowing money to Oregon’s cities, all the while handing control over the economy to a bureaucracy led by a director appointed by Brown.  

“The climate bill was a match that lit this powder keg of 30 years of resentment,” Reed said.

The messaging by industry and Republican lawmakers gained traction, culminating in the largest protest of the bill yet, coming at the Capitol last Thursday, two days after Democrats declared the bill dead.

Brown accused opponents of conducting a misinformation campaign. She said she wants to talk to directly to citizens have more conversations with the public at large, and one-on-one to better explain the proposal. Oregonians opposing the bill were fed information by industry opponents, the governor said.

The face of that opposition, at least in the Capitol, was business lobbyist Shaun Jillions, who heads trade association Oregon Manufacturers and Commerce. Jillions never gave up on the fight against HB 2020, successfully working hard in the final weeks to turn key Senate Democrats against the bill.

“People from around the state made their voices heard loud and clear last week,” Jillions said. “Oregon’s government has three distinct branches, each with its own constitutional role. Any action that would impact Oregon’s entire economy clearly is reserved to the Legislative Assembly.”

A representative from Oregon’s other large business group, Oregon Business and Industry, was not immediately available.

While opposition was cast as rising from grass roots, timber companies were found to be financing a political action committee tied to Thursday’s rally. The Oregonian reported that Koch Industries has donated $664,000 combined to the state senators through their careers. Koch owns two mills that would be regulated by the bill.

“It is really clear that Koch Industries was supportive of the walkout efforts,” Brown said. “That just makes me want to redouble our efforts to get this done.”

Reed said Renew’s coalition includes farmers and others in rural industry. But it’s difficult to break through the fossil fuel industry’s power and messaging.

“There is a reason that they’ve won this battle for 30 years,” he said.

On Monday, Brown asked industry executives to sit down with her and reach a compromise. She pointed to a visit to Ash Grove Cement in eastern Oregon — a company opposed to the proposal — that in part led to a change in the bill to ease the impact of cap and trade on industrial polluters. It was a better bill after, she said.

If such negotiations don’t work, she would consider her other options to force down emissions in the state.

“Given the uncertainty that now permeates Oregon’s political system, I am also directing my staff and agencies to explore alternative paths in case these collaborative approaches do not lead to successful legislation,” Brown said. “This includes the use of my executive powers and direction of state agencies.”

When asked to elaborate on what powers she has available, such as asking the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to more strictly regulate industrial emissions, Brown declined to be specific.

“At this point, all options are on the table,” Brown said. “We are going to use every single executive tool we have.”

A spokeswoman for DEQ didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Industrial polluters are only part of the issue. Cap and trade was also going to take a heavy hand to the transportation sector by regulating emissions of freight trucks and increasing the price of gasoline. Asked her authority to regulate vehicle emissions, Brown said her staff is still researching the possibilities.

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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