In her March 10, 2020 Executive Order 20-04, Governor Kate Brown directed 10 state agencies to report by May 15, 2020 on “proposed actions within their statutory authority to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions and mitigate climate change impacts.” Responses from eight of the 10 agencies are now posted on the Governor’s Carbon Policy website (with reports from the others listed as “coming soon”).

The Governor issued the sweeping Executive Order shortly after broad-based climate change legislation failed again in the Oregon legislature. The Executive Order calls for Oregon to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions at least 45 percent below 1990 emission levels by 2035 and at least 80 percent by 2050.

As Oregon agencies move forward with their identified “proposed actions,” we can expect legal challenges questioning whether those actions do in fact fall “within” those agencies’ statutory authority.

What Do the Agencies' Reports Look Like?

The agencies’ submitted reports vary in their detail, but combined, they highlight the wide-ranging nature of the Governor’s Executive Order, and they serve as a valuable tool for interested parties to understand the agencies’ plans and timelines and how the public can help to shape the coming process. The DEQ report, which includes five separate work plans, is a good place to start, as it reflects the particularly heavy lifting expected of that agency under the Executive Order.

The submissions outline DEQ’s proposals to expand the Oregon Clean Fuels Program, to reduce methane emissions from landfills by adopting stricter emission and monitoring standards, implement a statewide transportation strategy (STS) (in collaboration with other agencies) to reduce single-occupancy vehicle travel, and adopt stricter emission standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks. Additionally, DEQ released a preliminary work plan to reduce food waste in Oregon, which is consistent with Portland Metro’s new food scraps policy.

Last, but certainly not least, DEQ will be responsible for developing programs to set limits on GHG emissions from various sectors of Oregon’s economy. To meet this goal, DEQ outlined a policy-making process to implement three cap and reduce programs for large stationary sources, transportation fuels, and other fuels including natural gas.

It is not yet clear what form these programs will take, although DEQ has already explained that they will not involve a pollution permit framework. First, DEQ envisions a stakeholder engagement process to take place over the next few weeks, providing opportunities for the public to participate before a final report is submitted to the Governor by June 30, 2020.

Second, DEQ will begin a policy and program scoping phase to develop a range of options and questions for subsequent consideration by rules advisory committees. This second phase will take place through the fall of 2020.

Third, initial rulemaking work will begin with the appointment of a new rules advisory committee in late 2020, with potentially several subcommittees to provide options for consideration by the Environmental Quality Commission in late 2021. DEQ indicates the rulemaking is tentatively scheduled to meet the EO’s January 2022 timeline.

DEQ’s report has already identified several key policy questions. For example, while the Executive Order identified three sectors to be considered in the emission caps, DEQ asks whether each sector should be expected to achieve the same level of reduction, and whether that level “is necessarily the same as the level described in the EO.” This suggests that DEQ believes it may have some flexibility in implementing reduction targets, although the EO did not explicitly provide such discretion.

A related question is whether the rate of reductions imposed on each sector should take into account technological and economic feasibility. DEQ also seeks input on the scope of program coverage resulting from new emissions threshold, which would affect the number of entities regulated.

DEQ’s report illustrates the long road ahead to implement EO 20-04 – within just one agency. We will continue to follow and report on major updates to Oregon’s climate change response.