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Advocacy groups want higher target for reduced greenhouse gases than proposed by Gov. Brown and state agency.

As the Environmental Quality Commission prepares to hear from the public about proposed rules, two dozen environmental and other groups want to go beyond what Gov. Kate Brown has set as targets for reduction of greenhouse gases.

Brown stepped in with an executive order just days after Oregon lawmakers abruptly adjourned their 2020 session amid Republican walkouts, which blocked action by majority Democrats on climate-change and other pending legislation. Democrats were left without the numbers required to conduct business.

"We simply did not give up," Brown said. "We were relentless in pursuing an executive order to cap carbon emissions and have state agencies work to implement that order. We did not give up, and we will not give up. We know that climate change is impacting us right now."

Brown spoke to reporters July 27 after a ceremony in Portland to focus attention on four bills she has signed into law, including one (House Bill 2021) that requires Oregon's two largest investor-owned utilities to generate their power carbon-free by 2040 — the nation's most ambitious timeline.

Brown's executive order sets the same targets for reductions as the failed 2020 legislation — 45% from 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% by 2050 — of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and methane. But the Department of Environmental Quality, while it proposes the same targets, would use a baseline of 2017-19 emissions.

DEQ already monitors these emissions.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the federal Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act — and the EPA often delegates to states the responsibility for pollution enforcement.

Oregon's 2050 target is less than the 100% set by the Washington Legislature this year and the 100% by 2045 set by California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 before he left office. California lawmakers passed the first such legislation in the nation back in 2006. Both of those states have cap-and-trade systems, under which emissions are capped and affected industries either curb them or offset them by other means.

Many — including Bill Gates, the cofounder with Paul Allen of Microsoft, and author of the newly published "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" — are urging a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The five-member commission, DEQ's policy-making arm, will consider public comments on draft rules in August with an eye toward final adoption at the end of this year and implementation starting in 2022.

Groups: Go further

"The Climate Protection Program has the potential to be a consequential climate program, but not in its current form," Brad Reed, campaign manager for Renew Oregon, said. "Certainly with the drought, wildfires, heat waves, and ocean death zones, people are hungry to know what state leaders are doing to combat climate change."

A June 25 letter signed by representatives of 24 organizations, 10 of them sitting members of DEQ's rule-making advisory committee on climate change, said Oregon's ultimate target for 2050 should be 90% reduction of greenhouse gases based on 1990 levels. They argue that using a more recent 2017-19 baseline would lock in 5 million metric tons of emissions.

A follow-up letter they sent July 16 to Brown and DEQ Director Richard Whitman mentioned a scientific analysis of the Northwest heat wave at the end of June that resulted in at least 83 Oregon deaths. Other deaths from a total of 116 are still under investigation.

"The unprecedented heat wave would have been impossible without fossil fuel-driven climate change," it said.

The earlier letter from the groups not only called for a 90% reduction target by 2050, but other steps:

"Our policy recommendations have been unwavering throughout every stage of the Climate Protection Program rule-making process: DEQ should maximize emissions reductions, equitable outcomes, and local economic benefits by creating a program that is: based in the best available science, maintains the integrity of the cap and rate of decline, rewards early emissions reductions and doesn't provide exemptions for polluters.

"With less than a decade remaining to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate impacts, the urgency of the climate crisis has never been more stark. Likewise, the extreme cost of climate inaction has never been clearer. The ongoing climate-fueled heat wave and devastating and unprecedented September 2020 wildfire events are just the latest examples of how climate change is worsening public health crises … and costing Oregon taxpayers billions of dollars in health costs alone."

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Link to Department of Environmental Quality webpage on rule-making for Climate Protection Program as ordered by Gov. Kate Brown in 2020:

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