Image for Governor Brown Issues Promised ‘Cap-and-Reduce’ Executive Order

The cap-and-trade cat-and-mouse game continued this week as Governor Brown issued a sweeping executive order aimed at reducing carbon emissions and the legislative Emergency Board approved funding for state agencies to begin rule-writing.

Democrats have tried to pass some form of cap-and-trade legislation for the last decade to combat climate change. With supermajorities in the House and Senate, Democrats hoped to push through the latest version of cap-and-trade in the 2019 legislative session, but they were thwarted by a pair of walkouts by Senate Republicans that denied a necessary quorum for floor action. Democrats tried again in the just completed 2020 session with an amended measure, but again were unsuccessful because of a walkout by House and Senate GOP lawmakers.

Brown had pledged to take executive action if the legislature failed to act. Her 14-page order issued on Tuesday scraps the idea of trading carbon credits for ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions from buildings, appliances, fuel and food waste. The order affects 18 state agencies and commissions. Unlike the legislative version of cap-and-trade, the executive order doesn’t provide for exemptions or concessions to rural areas of Oregon.

“This executive order is extensive and thorough, taking the boldest actions available to lower greenhouse gas emissions under current state laws,” Brown said in a statement. “As a state, we will pursue every option available under existing law to combat the effects of climate change and put Oregon on a path we can be proud to leave behind for our children.” Brown, who began working on the executive order last year after House Bill 2020 faltered in the 2019 session, expressed confidence her order can withstand legal challenges.

Her executive order is certain to face legal challenges from cap-and-trade opponents. The order also could play a dominant and feisty role in legislative elections this year as Democrats seek to retain or even increase their House and Senate supermajorities and Republicans in a handful of swing districts defend their walkouts. For example, Senate GOP Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. warned the executive order would spawn expensive lawsuits. Brown retorted that Republicans should have remained in the Capitol to vote on cap-and-trade legislation if they were worried about legal bills.

The Emergency Board, on a partisan vote, approved $5 million to state agencies to write rules implementing Brown’s executive order. OPB Capitol reporter Dirk VanderHart noted the enforcement provisions in the order resemble those in Senate Bill 1530.

“Under the order,” VanderHart reported, “carbon polluters in the industrial, transportation and natural gas sectors would have their emissions capped by the state’s Environmental Quality Commission and Department of Environmental Quality, with allowable emissions reduced over time.”

SB 1530 provided for carbon emission allowances that would be purchased at auction, raising millions of dollars that could be spent to cushion economic impacts or to mitigate climate change impacts. The executive order would force carbon emitters to internalize the cost of emission reductions and pass along those costs to consumers.

Kristen Sheeran, director of the Carbon Policy Office, referred to the executive order as “cap-and reduce” with other priorities layered on top. Brown’s executive order directs DEQ to strengthen fuel standards, the Public Utility Commission to emphasize greenhouse gas emissions in utility regulation, the Department of Consumer and Business Services to ramp up building energy efficiency goals, the Department of Energy to update standards for energy efficient home appliances and the Department of Administrative Services to buy more electric vehicles and add charging stations.

In her statement, Brown said the order makes “climate action a top priority for agency decision-making and directs state agencies to add climate action as a lens for all of their work, which will lower carbon emissions across current agency activities, including as agencies spend the state’s budget on goods and services.”

Democratic leaders praised the executive order while Republican leaders panned it.

“After years of obstruction by Republicans and the corporate pollution lobby, today is the day we say no more and take action for future generations,” House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner said.

“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,” House Republican Leader Christine Drazan said.