Judge reverses secretary of state, allows Oregon energy measures to move ahead

A Marion County judge has reversed a decision by Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno to reject two proposed ballot initiatives on carbon reduction. 

Circuit Judge David Leith ruled Thursday, Jan. 16, that initiatives backed by renewable energy coalition Renew Oregon do not violate Oregon law prohibiting ballot measures from taking on more than a single subject. Overturning Clarno’s rejection, Leith said that the labor and equity provisions included in the measures connect to the subject to guide the transition.

Clarno was not immediately available for comment on the ruling.

The initiatives are two versions of a “clean air” proposal to require Oregon to produce all of its electricity using renewable energy and carbon-free sources by January 1, 2045. They also set labor practice standards ensuring that construction jobs resulting from the petitions are high quality with worker and wage protections. 

Co-chief petitioner Eric Richardson, executive director of the Eugene/Springfield NAACP, was pleased with the ruling. He was happy to see the initiatives take another step toward a ballot.

“These initiatives provide not only a target for 100 percent clean electricity but also a blueprint for the transition, so it creates good-paying jobs with benefits and prioritizes communities most in need of investment,” he said.

Co-chief petitioner Lisa Adatto was excited that if passed, the initiatives would provide a cleaner and healthier future for Oregonians. She also was happy that Leith followed decades of precedent in his decision.

Renew Oregon’s attorney argued the group’s case Thursday in Marion County Circuit Court. Leith’s ruling adopted an injunction allowing the initiatives to proceed without delay. The proposed initiatives are seen as a backstop should lawmakers fail to pass carbon-reduction laws in the short 2020 legislative session that begins Feb. 3. 

Clarno announced her rejection of the two initiatives in December. It was the second time in less than a year her office had thrown out proposed ballot measures based on Oregon’s single-subject rule. Early in 2019, Clarno’s office rejected two initiatives aimed at restricting some logging practices in forest watersheds. Proponents of those measures sued to overturn her decision, but lost their case.

Both of Renew Oregon’s petitions will resume the process of earning certified ballot titles from the Oregon attorney general’s office. Backers will then need to collect 112,020 valid voter signatures, each, to qualify for the November ballot.

Renew Oregon Executive Director Tera Hurst said the ruling cleared the way for climate action policy to prevail in 2020, whether through legislation, executive action or the ballot.

“Oregonians support these measures by wide margins because we understand a clean energy transition is the only way to protect our health and economy and take responsibility for handing our kids a healthy world,” Hurst said.

Contact reporter Sam Stites: [email protected] or 971-255-3480.