On March 18, 2022, the fossil fuel industry and corporate interest groups filed three separate legal actions in Oregon to challenge and attempt to roll back the state's Climate Protection Program. The unfortunate, but anticipated, attempt at obstruction from large polluting industries was met with unified protest from across Oregon.
Oregon Environmental Council:
(March 21) On Friday, representatives of some of Oregon's biggest fossil fuel companies initiated their most recent effort to roll back rules that reduce climate pollution. In filing a petition for judicial review of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) authority to operate the Climate Protection Program, these companies are once again prioritizing profits over public health.
The Climate Protection Program was the result of a robust, transparent, public engagement process during which industry lobbyists attempted to delay and weaken it. According to the DEQ, the vast majority of the more then 7,600 public comments received during the process were supportive of the program.
Oregon residents are demanding action to reduce wildfires, heat waves, and drought. The Climate Protection Program delivered on the overwhelming public support to hold polluters accountable and to protect Oregon's climate, public health, and communities. Other businesses are already beginning to comply with the program and are moving to capitalize on opportunities that will be generated in the shift to a renewable energy economy.
In the words of OEC's Climate Program Director Nora Apter, "Rather than seize the opportunity to innovate and invest in the jobs and economic stability afforded by a transition to a clean energy future, corporate polluters are doubling down on obstruction. The Climate Protection Program was developed with an historic level of public participation. This frivolous, cynical, legal action is a slap in the face to the majority of Oregon residents who support it, and who deserve cleaner air, improved health, and a more resilient source of energy."
Oregon Business for Climate (Tim Miller, Director):
(March 22) The Department of Environmental Quality shaped the program with input from a large, diverse Rulemaking Advisory Committee (RAC) through a transparent, robust, 18-month process. As Director of Oregon Business for Climate, I participated as a member of the RAC and saw first-hand the overwhelming support of Oregonians for the program. The result is a smart, flexible Climate Protection Program (CPP) that guides businesses to a clean energy transition. Rather than mandating how to get there, the program leaves room for innovation. It also spurs targeted community investments to help with the transition.
Hundreds of Oregon businesses, like the members of Oregon Business for Climate, with tens of thousands of employees, see the imperative – and the opportunity – of aggressive climate action. And we understand that every jurisdiction must take responsibility for its share of global emissions. Of course some businesses face legitimate challenges and as they plan, invest, and adapt for success in a clean energy economy – and the Climate Protection Plan provides clear direction for that planning.
Unfortunately, it's no surprise that certain entrenched interests in the state are sticking with an old playbook, attempting to roll back Oregon’s leadership.
These tactics put more than our progress at risk. They threaten our economy. Clean energy and energy efficiency save money – for families and businesses. Those dollars circulate right here in Oregon, and their costs aren’t affected by actions half a world away (as we’re seeing right now through Putin's invasion of Ukraine). Oregonians facing worsening fires, smoke, heat and drought know that the real cost to be concerned about is the cost of inaction. Those costs are multiplied when considering the local health and other effects of fossil-fueled energy, especially in our most vulnerable communities. The extensive testimony and studies reviewed in the process of forming the CPP quantified the overwhelming economic benefits of moving forward with the program.
Savvy Oregon businesses plan for their operating and regulatory environment, and want clarity wherever possible. They see that climate change is a huge piece of that context. Yes, it’s an unprecedented challenge. But forward-looking businesses see both a responsibility and an opportunity. With strong climate action, spurred by programs like the CPP and other investments, Oregon has the chance to help lead the way to a clean economy. This sparks innovation in products, services, and business practices in industries across the state – bringing leadership and competitive advantages to expanded markets everywhere. That creates good jobs in our communities, along with energy cost savings, health benefits, and cleaner air and water.
Change is coming. The question is whether we’ll let change happen to us, or face the challenge with a plan. Will we look to delay and defer out of parochial interests, or look forward and play an active role in managing through it? Proactive solutions to climate change are both an imperative for our communities, and a once-in-a-generation opportunity for our economy.
Environmental Justice Advocates Respond to Industry Lawsuits Attacking Oregon Climate Protection Program
(March 23) Fossil Fuel Challenges to CPP are a Diversion; Agencies Should Focus on Addressing Significant Program Loopholes
Salem, OR - Oregon’s natural gas utilities, Northwest Natural Gas, Avista, and Cascade Natural Gas, and several business associations that use fossil fuels filed lawsuits last week challenging Oregon’s first greenhouse gas regulatory program, known as the Climate Protection Program (CPP). The lawsuits, filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals, claim that the CPP could potentially impact the cost of fossil fuels. The petitions do not explain what allegedly is illegal about the CPP rules, but cite a statute that allows a court to invalidate agency rulemaking if it is unconstitutional, exceeds the agency’s authority, or was adopted in a procedurally deficient way.
"There's no question that ending our reliance on fossil fuels is essential to avoiding the most devastating impacts of climate change, and that it will involve a significant reshaping of our economy," said Representative Khah Pham (Portland, District 46). "Instead of resisting that change, we invite Oregon's business community to join our calls for more safeguards to ensure that the transition is an equitable and fair one. Suing to overturn the Climate Protection Program doesn't move us towards a just transition."
“We are running out of time for meaningful action on climate, and the program that has come into industry’s crosshairs reflects just the beginning of the work that needs to be done to transition away from fossil fuels. There is no doubt that Oregon has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and a clear mandate to do so,” said Molly Tack-Hooper, Supervising Senior Attorney at Earthjustice. “These lawsuits do not identify a single legal problem with the Climate Protection Program, and will only serve to stall climate progress.”
“Any time significant action is taken on climate, industry finds ways to create and exploit loopholes and avoid accountability to the communities they pollute,” said Oriana Magnera, Energy, Climate, and Transportation Manager at Verde. “Diversions like these lawsuits change the conversation from how to meaningfully protect vulnerable Oregonians to how to enable polluters to do harm unchecked.”
The CPP regulates emissions from gas utilities, fuel suppliers, and a small number of stationary sources of pollution. While environmental justice and public health advocates have applauded this step forward for action on climate, they have also expressed concerns about major gaps in the program including exclusions for fracked gas power plants and the vast majority of industrial sources that burn natural gas.
“Regulating the gas industry and fuel suppliers is an important first step for climate action in Oregon, but the State still needs to focus on strengthening this program by closing loopholes that give industry a free pass to emit pollutants that harm the health of communities and contribute to climate change,” said Allie Rosenbluth, Campaigns Director at Rogue Climate. “These lawsuits are just another example that, despite big talk about climate goals, fossil fuel corporations will do anything they can to weaken climate action and delay a just transition to clean energy.”
“The Climate Protection Program regulations are a necessary step towards mitigating the negative health impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. Burning fossil fuels releases air pollutants and particulate matter that can cause cardiovascular and respiratory ailments as well as other detrimental health issues. The fossil fuel companies challenging the Climate Protection Program are impeding on much needed climate action that will protect and benefit the health of Oregonians,” said Samantha Hernandez, Climate Justice Organizer at Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Citizens’ Utility Board:
(March 24) By: Bob Jenks, Executive Director
Oregon’s three gas utilities have filed suit to avoid reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the Climate Protection Program. NW Natural, Avista, and Cascade Natural Gas are suing together to prevent one of the strongest climate programs in the country from going forward.
The Climate Protection Program is a new program within Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality. It is designed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2035 and 90 percent by 2050. It applies to suppliers of fossil fuels and large industrial facilities.
The Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board (CUB) criticizes the gas utilities for suing the State of Oregon rather than prioritizing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon and complying with climate regulations.
The Gulf Between Marketing and Reality for Gas Utilities
The Climate Protection Program will be a challenge for natural gas utilities, threatening their bottom line. Natural gas (methane) is a fossil fuel. Reducing natural gas emissions by 50 percent by 2035 is a huge challenge. Nonetheless, gas utilities seek to continue expanding the natural gas system in Oregon and adding thousands of new customers each year.
Oregon’s gas utilities have been widely marketing their support of environmental stewardship and decarbonization goals. In fact, all three recently released statements touting their commitment to a greener future. But if their suit is successful, these utilities will prevent landmark climate action and keep polluting our climate with methane emissions.
“Gas utilities talk a good game about their commitment to reducing carbon emissions. But they continue to invest millions in expanding their pipelines and increasing their emissions every year,” said Bob Jenks, CUB Executive Director. “This suit demonstrates the wide gulf between their rhetoric and their reality.”
The Risk for Customers
CUB is concerned that the lawsuit increases economic risk to customers. Sooner or later there will be carbon regulation on the gas industry. While these utilities invest more millions in new pipelines, the cost of future regulatory compliance rises. And the longer gas utilities push off this problem, the higher the bill will be for customers down the road.
As Oregon transitions to clean electricity, many customers will choose to switch from gas to electric appliances. Customers who cannot switch - specifically low-income households - may be left with ballooning costs as the gas system is funded by a shrinking customer base.
The Climate Protection Program Means a Massive Shift for the Gas Industry
The Climate Protection Program is designed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon consistent with the state’s preexisting targets.
Meeting these goals may require a shift to highly efficient heat pumps to heat and cool the homes of many Oregonians. Electric heat pumps can heat and cool buildings and water more efficiently than gas heaters with fewer emissions. Many stakeholders see electrification of these and other gas appliances as critical to this effort.
CUB will be working with utilities and regulators to ensure that we can meet the Climate Protection Plan requirements. We will also ensure that Oregonians have affordable access to lights, heat, cooling, and transportation.