SALEM — Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission, or EQC, a governor-appointed panel, voted 3-to-1 Thursday, Dec. 16, to approve the “Climate Protection Program,” a sweeping plan aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by regulating fuel-related pollution.
The move is controversial and sparked more than 7,600 comments from Oregonians during the public comment period, according to Department of Environmental Quality staff.
Climate activists say the new rules are long overdue and may not be extensive enough. Critics say the program has the potential to significantly increase fuel prices, impacting all Oregonians and disproportionately hurting sectors that rely on transportation, including agriculture.
The plan, which will be phased in starting Jan. 1, will require fuel suppliers in Oregon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the products they sell 50% by 2035 and 90% by 2050.
DEQ will issue free compliance credits to fuel suppliers covering each metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted from burning the fuel they sell.
The allowable emission cap will become smaller each year, forcing suppliers to substitute “cleaner” options for fossil fuels, raise prices to lessen demand or purchase alternative credits.
The plan was developed by DEQ after Republican walkouts in 2019 and 2020 killed efforts to pass economy-wide “cap and trade” legislation.
After the walkouts, Gov. Kate Brown outflanked Republicans with a far-reaching use of her executive powers to achieve the same general goals. March of 2020, she signed an executive order directing agencies to craft a plan to regulate emissions.
A year and nine months later, commissioners voted to approve the new rules.
“I’m proud that today, Oregon is taking the historic step to put tools in place to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Brown said in a statement.
In a press conference, Richard Whitman, director of DEQ, said Oregon’s move to “get off fossil fuels” sets a positive example for other U.S. states.
But critics are concerned.
“I’m really troubled by the agency’s process here,” said Mary Anne Cooper, spokesperson for the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Advocates of the rule were hand-selected and put on a committee, which really didn’t have enough business interest representation.”
Agency officials, Cooper said, “fail to understand how businesses work generally and how agricultural businesses work specifically.” She said added costs will cut into the bottom line.
In a public comment, Michelle Palacios, executive director of the Oregon Hop Growers Association, said the rule “could greatly increase the cost of natural gas for local hop growers at a time we can least afford it.”
So, what might the new plan actually cost?
Trucking industry groups have estimated the plan could double the price of natural gas by 2050, add 36 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline and add 39 cents per gallon to the price of diesel by 2035.
Whitman, of DEQ, offered a more modest estimate, saying the regulations could bump up fuel prices 3% to 7% by 2050.
“We’re projecting even less than that,” he said.
Kathleen George, EQC’s chair, said the plan includes flexible language to protect against skyrocketing fuel prices. If Oregon fuel prices increase by more than 20%, she said, it will trigger a review to potentially change the program.