After failing to push a comprehensive climate policy through the Oregon Legislature last session, activists are taking their campaign to the ballot box in hopes of gaining leverage with lawmakers next year or backing from voters in the 2020 general election.
Renew Oregon, a coalition of organizations and businesses that support aggressive action on climate change, filed three proposed ballot measures Monday with the Oregon secretary of state. They aim to establish hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions and force electric utilities to move to 100 percent renewable energy during the next two decades.
Brad Reed, a spokesman for the group, said that after the failure of the so-called Clean Energy Jobs bill this spring, it doesn’t make sense to simply come back with similar cap-and-trade legislation backed by the same coalition and count on a different result. He said polling funded by his coalition shows that 60% to 70% of voters are ready to back climate-change policy in Oregon, and if lawmakers won’t act, voters will.
“The playing field needs to change; the circumstances need to be different,” he said. “These ballot measures are an insurance policy that no matter what happens in the 2020 legislative session, Oregonians can take action on climate change.”
Gov. Kate Brown also promised to keep the momentum going on climate-change policy when House Bill 2020 died in the Legislature, but has been largely silent since then. At the time, she said she would be working with companies and communities affected by the legislation to come up with possible compromises, and said it was possible she would implement pieces of the policy by executive order. It remains unclear, however, how far she could go using an executive order, or whether there are any tweaks to the proposed policy that would be acceptable to activists and keep Republicans in the building for a vote.
This isn’t Renew Oregon’s first go-round in the ballot measure arena. The organization was formed in 2015 to run a campaign in support of an initiative petition that called for the state to increase its renewable energy mandates and wean itself from coal-fired electric power. That petition was withdrawn when lawmakers passed a bill the following year that included those provisions.
Political observers see a similar dynamic at work this time.
“This is a classic example of a ballot measure designed to force the Legislature to do something,” said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University. “They see an opening with some kind of compromise that we’ll see next year.”
The first initiative petition, dubbed 100% Clean Economy, would establish and enforce limits on greenhouse gas emissions in the state, replacing the current soft goals with hard limits that are even more stringent limits than those contemplated in House Bill 2020. The measure would require the state to reduce greenhouse gas pollution 50% below 1990 levels by 2035 and be 100% carbon-free by 2050.
That’s roughly the level to which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global emissions of carbon dioxide need to be reduced to keep global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees centigrade. It’s also in line with limits being set by other states such as Colorado, New York, California and New Mexico.
This measure would establish hard limits on pollution but leave it up to the Environmental Quality Commission to come up with a program to get there. That’s essentially what took place when California lawmakers passed the Global Warming Act of 2006. That law left it up to the California Air Resources Board to come up with the market-based program to reduce emissions, which was first implemented in 2013.
If the ballot measure goes forward and voters approve it, rule-making would begin in January of 2021.
The second initiative petition filed by Renew Oregon, called 100% Clean Electricity, would require that all electricity used in Oregon be from 100% carbon-free sources by 2045. This is a far less comprehensive measure, as carbon emissions from the electric sector only account for about a quarter of Oregon’s carbon emissions. Moreover, the state’s electric utilities are already on the path to partial decarbonization and subject to a state law that requires them to meet 50% of customers’ demand with renewable sources, excluding most hydro-power, by 2040.
Nevetheless, this measure would up the ante considerably and once again put Oregon in line with seven other states and more than 100 cities that have made commitments to 100% clean electricity. Washington just passed its own 100% clean electricity bill this spring.
As it stands, about 7% of Oregon’s electricity comes from wind and solar, 41% from hydro and about half from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.