Carbon bill

A truck drives around the Oregon Capitol in Salem during a June 2019 protest against climate bills that truckers said would have put them out of business. Cap-and-trade legislation died that year in the Legislature.

A coalition of Oregon’s largest industry groups have sued to overturn the executive order on climate change policy that Gov. Kate Brown issued after Republicans walked out of this year’s short legislative session and once again killed Democrats’ controversial carbon cap-and-trade bill.

Brown issued her executive order in early March, mandating the same emissions reduction targets that were in the failed House Bill 2020 — namely at least 45% below 1990 emissions levels by 2035, and at least 80% below those levels by 2050. She also directed state agencies to adopt rules to achieve those goals through stricter emissions standards for trucks; cap-and-trade programs for large industrial sources, transportation and natural gas; as well as stricter carbon standards under the state’s existing Clean Fuels Program.

The business groups sued Friday, arguing that Brown overstepped her authority under the Oregon Constitution and saying policymaking properly rests with the Legislature.

The plaintiffs in the suit include trade groups representing some of Oregon’s largest industrial sources of greenhouse gas pollution, including loggers, farmers, truckers, manufacturers and fuel companies. Oregon’s largest umbrella business group, Oregon Business & Industry, did not actively oppose the carbon bill in the Legislature because its membership was divided on the issue. But it signed on to Friday’s lawsuit.

Sandra McDonough, president of the group, noted in an email to members Friday that individual companies are taking steps to reduce their greenhouse emissions and that the group still believes “durable and balanced solutions are needed.”

“The lawsuit is not about carbon policy,” she insisted. “Rather, it is about constitutional authorities and the role of the Governor versus the role of the Legislature. In our view, the Governor exceeded her constitutional role by rewriting statute and infringing upon the designated role of the Legislature.”

In the end, there may be little practical distinction. Democrats have tried and failed for more than a decade to come up with a meaningful carbon-reduction policy that can pass amid intense opposition from industry, rural Oregonians and Republican lawmakers.

Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said many of the same industries behind the lawsuit used their influence to shut down HB 2020.

“Based on their previous behavior of spreading misinformation on climate change and spending millions on lobbyists and political donations, it’s no surprise that industries dependent on polluting the climate are attempting to further delay action and place the health and economic burdens of climate change onto future generations,” he said. “But it is a huge disappointment.

Other states have initially implemented climate change policy via executive order. In June 2005, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed an executive order setting greenhouse emissions reduction targets for the state and directing state agencies to develop programs to get there. That state’s carbon cap and trade system was subsequently approved by lawmakers. A variety of East Coast states have also joined a regional climate initiative capping emissions in the power sector via executive order.

Brad Reed, a spokesman for the climate advocacy group Renew Oregon, said the new lawsuit was right out of the standard industry playbook: obstruct in the Legislature then take it to court if you don’t prevail. He pointed to two failed lawsuits by the Western States Petroleum Association to block implementation of Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program, and said the new suit is more of the same.

Tom Kelly, a Portland businessman and chair of a business group that supports the climate change policy, called the lawsuit “a dangerous delay tactic.”

“These groups claim to be acting in the interest of Oregon’s businesses and industry, yet by standing in the way of climate action, they threaten Oregon’s economy, technological innovation, and job growth. We must take a lesson from COVID-19 and follow science to avoid a climate catastrophe. We are running up against the clock to flatten the climate curve.”

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