After two failed legislative attempts, Gov. Kate Brown signs an expansive order targeting climate change

Students joined Gov. Kate Brown at the Oregon Capitol for the signing of a climate change executive order on March 10, 2020 (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)

Gov. Kate Brown signed a sweeping executive order on Tuesday that directs state government to significantly cut greenhouse emissions in Oregon.

The governor’s move in response to Legislature adjourning for the second time on Sunday without having passed a bill with similar goals. 

Flanked by students at the Capitol, Brown said that the order would put the state on a path its children could be proud of and was needed urgently to address climate change. 

“We are all in this together and if we can make progress on climate change we just might have a world we can pass onto our children,” said Brown.

The order updates and adds more teeth to the state’s existing greenhouse gas reduction goals. It sets a 45% reduction from 19990 levels by 2035 and an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. 

The order directs the Department of Environmental Quality to put caps on emissions from the state’s three largest sources including transportation fuels, natural gas and large industrial polluters. The order seeks to increase electric vehicles in the state and directs the Department of Transportation to consider how its future spending affects climate change — including road expansion. 

It also doubles the state’s clean fuels program, requires higher efficiency for buildings and appliances while requiring all state agencies to consider how their spending and actions will impact climate.

The executive order updates the existing state carbon emissions goals to reflect the current science, setting a standard of 45% reduction from 1990 levels by 2035, and an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. 

On Monday, the legislative Emergency Board voted to direct $5 million to the state Department of Environmental Quality to begin drafting rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. 

The allocation would be used to hire 10 new positions. During Monday’s Emergency Board meeting, Richard Whitman, director of the Department of Environmental Quality, said that the new hires would help complete initial rulemaking for a greenhouse gas reduction program by 2022. That’s roughly the same timeline laid out in the bill killed last session to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

A statewide program to cap greenhouse gas emissions has been a priority for Democrats who control the governor’s office and lopsided majorities in the Legislature. But previous attempts were stymied after legislative Republicans walked out of the Capitol in the last two sessions, denying lawmakers a quorum to conduct business. 

Brown’s move was welcomed by Democratic legislative leaders but was criticized by Republicans. 

“This is not only an abuse of power, it shows how out of touch the governor is with the pressing needs of families and communities across the state,” said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan in a statement. 

The most recent walkout occurred during the most recent legislative session that ended on Sunday. 

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger, Jr. has questioned the governor’s move, saying it would open the state to an expensive lawsuit. 

On Tuesday, Brown said that her order had been carefully vetted to ensure it was in compliance with state law and constitution. 

After a similar bill failed to pass during last year’s legislative session, a coalition of businesses environmental groups and others called Renew Oregon began preparing a greenhouse gas reduction initiative for the 2020 ballot. 

Renew Oregon applauded Brown’s move in a statement following her announcement. 

“Oregonians have organized, advocated, worked and voted for years demanding our state take bold action to reduce climate pollution, improve our health, and transition to clean energy. Governor Brown delivered today with strong and comprehensive action,” said Tera Hurst, executive director of Renew Oregon, in a statement. “This action will hold large corporate polluters accountable for the pollution they create. We all have a responsibility to do our part and most of us do, now it’s time for large polluters to start doing theirs.”

Brad Reed, spokesman for Renew Oregon, said that his group is currently considering whether to move forward with its ballot initiatives or withdraw them. He said that it will consider if the ballot initiatives overlap with the governor’s order and if they accomplish the same goals. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.