It looks as if Gov. Kate Brown has been preparing for more than a year for the chance that a cap-and-trade bill to lower greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon would not win approval from the 2019 legislative session.
As it turned out, that was a good bet: Despite the fact that Democrats held big majorities in both legislative chambers, the measure (House Bill 2020) stalled in dramatic fashion in the Senate during the final weeks of the session. First, Republican senators boycotted the Capitol (in some cases actually leaving the state so they’d be out of range of State Police efforts to round them up), denying the Senate the quorum of 20 votes it needed to conduct any business.
Then, Senate President Peter Courtney announced, in almost equally dramatic fashion, that the bill did not have enough support from Democrats to pass. The Republican senators returned to Salem and the Legislature raced through its remaining agenda during a frenetic weekend.
The Monday after legislators left Salem, Brown told reporters she was exploring the use of executive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — actions that would not require any legislative approval. She didn’t identify what those measures might be (Brown is notorious for keeping her cards close to her chest) but also said that she and other administration officials would spend time and effort reaching out to the rural parts of Oregon, areas where opposition to the cap-and-trade bill had simmered for months and finally boiled over, leading to highly visible protests in Salem.
But Brown didn’t go into that Monday meeting with reporters cold. A news story this week from the Oregon Capital Bureau reported that she had the benefit of more than a year’s worth of work from the state Department of Environmental Quality, outlining possible actions the governor could take on her own. That work was put on the back burner during the early stages of the session, when it seemed as if House Bill 2020 was gathering momentum. But as soon as it was clear that the bill was dead, work resumed in earnest on the notion of executive action.
In response to a public records request from the Capital Bureau, the Department of Environmental Quality released 39 emails between the governor’s office and the department that outline some of the proposals under consideration. Some of the proposals, such as increasing access to public transit and promoting biking and walking, won’t generate much controversy but will be of limited use in rural parts of Oregon; the same likely is true of another proposal, to require newly constructed buildings to include electric vehicle charging stations.
Some of the other proposals that the administration is kicking around, however, could raise hackles in those parts of Oregon that are not the Portland metro area. They include suggestions such as a gradually declining cap on industrial emissions and fossil fuel importers, strengthening Oregon’s controversial low-carbon fuel standard, boosting regulations on landfills to lower methane emissions, more strictly regulating dairies and expanding vehicle inspection programs so that medium-duty trucks are inspected twice per year.
Brown’s office this week said she’s been meeting with stakeholders from the agricultural sector, transportation sector, and wood products industries “throughout the summer and will continue to do so into the fall to ensure that the policy benefits rural Oregon while allowing rural Oregon industries to remain competitive.” That’s fine, as far as it goes — and we’re guessing these discussions tie into her preference that this be handled through legislation rather than executive action. (That’s our preference as well; the legislative process usually allows for more flexibility and more public scrutiny of important issues.)
But allow us to suggest that Brown expand those talks by going out into rural Oregon and holding public meetings where she makes her case on carbon reduction. And then she should sit back and just listen. She might be surprised.