Brown tries political end-run to lock in environmental rules
Gov. Kate Brown wants to guard against a rollback of federal environmental rules by moving them into state law where the Trump administration couldn't touch them.
Brown, a Democrat up for re-election next month, proposed legislation Wednesday, Oct. 3, adopting all federal clean air and water standards as of Jan. 19, 2017 — the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated.
"As states, we can take a leadership role in preventing the erosion of core laws that protect our environment," Brown said in remarks at an Oct. 3 event at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. "Together, states must stand up to the Trump administration's continuous attacks on our health and environment."
Brown said that the Trump administration has already scaled back some rules that aim to keep the country's air and water clean. The administration has repealed or proposed elimination of about 46 regulations, according to Brown's office, citing the Harvard Environmental Law Program Regulatory Rollback Tracker. These include fuel efficiency standards and regulations on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Oregon has one such plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also considering aspects of rules adopted in 2016 to require reduced emissions from public landfills. Landfills emit high levels of gases like methane and carbon dioxide. Nationally, they are the third-largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions.
Eight state attorneys general, including Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, sued the EPA over the proposed rollback in May "on behalf of (Oregon's) citizens and residents to protect their health and well-being and to protect natural resources held in trust by the state."
"It is widely assumed that the next wave of rollbacks will be to core safeguards of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act," according to Brown's press release. "Over the past two years Oregonians have witnessed an unprecedented and aggressive attack on clean air standards, clean water standards, and federal efforts to fight climate change. In Oregon, that rollback stops now."
Nikki Fisher, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email that there would be no expected additional cost to state government as a result.
Defending Oregon's air and water
The announcement came the morning after the first debate of Brown's re-election campaign. Her opponent, state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, said in response to Brown's proposal that he too would "defend Oregon and our clean air and clean water."
"As governor, if the Trump administration attempts to roll back rules that safeguard Oregon's environment, I will defend Oregon and our clean air and clean water," Buehler said in a statement issued Wednesday, Oct. 3. "I have shown this repeatedly by breaking with my party on this important issue. I opposed the president's decision to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and broke with my party to replace coal energy in Oregon with cleaner renewables like wind and solar."
Buehler supported 2016 legislation that required Oregon to stop using coal-generated electricity by 2030. He also criticized Brown's direction of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates air and water. In February 2017, Brown appointed Richard Whitman director of the agency. The previous director resigned in 2016 over a heavy metal air pollution scandal in Portland.
In January, state auditors found that backlogs in permits and inspections at the agency "endanger the state's air quality and the health of Oregonians."
"In addition to talking about federal environmental regulations, I would challenge Gov. Brown to fix her own DEQ which has been mired in chaos and turnover, failing to protect and enforce our state laws," Buehler said.
Christian Gaston, a spokesman for Brown's campaign, claimed in an email Thursday morning, Oct. 4, that Buehler was "lying."