Oregon adopts new carbon emission caps on fuel suppliers, major polluters 

The new regulations will help the state meet state and international targets for curbing the worst effects of climate change, regulators say

By: - December 16, 2021 3:27 pm

Oregon’s Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission has approved new regulations to cut emissions in Oregon over the next 30 years. (Salem Reporter photo)

At a meeting Thursday, Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission voted for new regulations that require the state’s fuel companies to reduce their emissions by 90% during the next 30 years.

The Climate Protection Program would require Oregon’s fuel suppliers to cut in half the greenhouse gas emissions from their products by 2035 and reduce emissions by 90% by 2050. 

The rules apply to all Oregon suppliers of gasoline, diesel, natural gas and propane. They do not apply to electrical utilities.

The program was developed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, which recommended that the state’s Environmental Quality Commission – a governor-appointed panel of five who approve and enforce the Department’s rules – approve the program on Thursday. The five members are Kathleen George, Sam Baraso, Molly Kile, Greg Addington and Amy Schlusser.

Of the four commissioners who voted, three approved the rules and one dissented.

The Climate Protection Program sets limits on the emissions fuel suppliers can produce. The limits will be lowered incrementally, forcing fuel producers to switch to cleaner methods and products over time to eventually phase out fossil fuels entirely. As they transition, companies can buy credits in “Community Climate Investments,” investments in projects like electric buses, electric vehicle charging stations and home fuel-efficiency initiatives, to offset between 10% and 20% of their emissions over time. 

The target that DEQ set for 90% emissions reductions by 2050 is even more ambitious than the one Gov. Kate Brown set in an sweeping executive order made in March 2020, which mandated the agency to find ways to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. 

We have a lot more information that has been released recently that really stresses that we need to actually pick up our emissions reductions.

– Nicole Singh, a senior climate advisor, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Nicole Singh, a senior climate advisor at DEQ, said the agency decided to set a higher target for carbon emissions reductions in the program in response to research.

“We have a lot more information that has been released recently that really stresses that we need to actually pick up our emissions reductions,” Singh said in the meeting.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that to avoid the worst effects of climate change from a 1.5 degree Celsius increase in the earth’s average temperature, or about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, countries need to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That means that emissions spewed into the environment are not more than those that are taken out, for example, by planting trees or through technology. 

Some commissioners disagreed about the timeline and the exclusion of investments for things that remove carbon from the air, or carbon sequestration. That would have allowed polluters to invest in state land, to absorb and store more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to offset their emissions.

Commissioner Greg Addington, a recent addition to the commission and a consultant who works in the natural resources industries, said he feared the program would hurt state businesses and that the costs incurred from the state’s fossil fuel suppliers would be passed on to Oregon industries. He asked that the program be amended to allow for the department to approve carbon sequestration to offset emissions. He asked the committee to take more time to consider it.

But at a news conference after the meeting, commission chair Kathleen George said the group needed to “act decisively and urgently.” 

Subsequently, the Oregon Farm Bureau criticized the decision in a statement, saying the new program would be “raising the costs for the fuels, propane, and natural gas our rural communities rely on to produce food and fiber as part of a global food system.” The organization said it would legally challenge the new rules but provided no specifics.

Environmental groups applauded the commission’s decision.

“This is a win for our climate and for the people. Decision-makers responded to the thousands of Oregonians who weighed in during this process,” said Nora Apter of the Oregon Environmental Council.

“This program will lead to concrete benefits like renewable energy, healthier, energy efficient buildings, and electric cars and trucks,” said Meredith Connolly of Climate Solutions.

CORRECTION: A change in 1.5 degrees Celsius to the earth’s average temperature is equal to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. An earlier version listed the incorrect conversion temperature.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt is a reporter for Oregon Capital Chronicle. She has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.