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Oregon leaders say U.S. Supreme Court EPA ruling will not stop local progress against climate change

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Manuel Balce Ceneta
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The U.S. Supreme Court has voted to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to combat climate change.

In a statement, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the decision undermines 50 years of progress under the federal Clean Air Act.

“Oregon will continue to lead the way to address climate change at the state level, moving to 100% clean energy, capping emissions and taking a comprehensive approach to climate change,” she said in a Tweet.

Environmental advocates in Oregon said the ruling will hurt national efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, but they said it won’t affect local efforts already underway to shut down coal-fired power plants, restrict coal-fired electricity on the power grid and block fossil fuel projects like oil-by-rail terminals.

“The Supreme Court decision is a blow for everyone that cares about tackling the climate crisis across the U.S.,” Lauren Goldberg, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper, said on Thursday. “But here in the Pacific Northwest, we have had huge success in addressing the climate crisis on state and local levels, and today’s decision is not going to stop that momentum.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum issued a statement calling the Supreme Court decision a “radical act” that is “deeply disturbing.” She noted that Oregon has been involved in litigation over the issue of regulating greenhouse gas emissions since 2015 and promised to continue to “mitigate climate harms” at the federal and state level.

“This chilling ruling curtails the federal government’s ability to protect us from greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions under this part of the Clean Air Act,” Rosenblum said. “We will not be derailed. Our future — and our children’s and grandchildren’s — depend on stepping up this critical work and never giving up.”

After the Oregon Legislature failed to pass cap and trade legislation that would limit greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, Gov. Brown issued an executive order directing state agencies to reduce emissions in other ways.

In response, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality launched the Climate Protection Program to reduce emissions from transportation fuels and natural gas by 90% by 2050.

Oregon DEQ Director Richard Whitman said the Supreme Court ruling will not affect that program or the agency’s ongoing low-carbon fuels program, which requires reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline and diesel.

Oregon lawmakers also passed a clean energy bill last year that aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Whitman noted, but that law will be implemented through state regulation of utilities — not through the EPA.

“The work that Oregon has done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions really has been almost completely independent of work that’s been going on at the federal level,” Whitman said. “The states will have to continue to lead on climate given this decision by the Supreme Court. It really underlines the importance of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Whitman said his agency is operating under authority granted by the Oregon Legislature to regulate air pollution, and that authority will not change as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.

“It’s still disappointing because I think we were hopeful we would have national regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by the federal Environmental Protection Agency,” he said. “That would give us a level playing field across the nation for addressing this part of climate change.”

Whitman said the court’s ruling will allow some states to avoid taking action to reduce emissions in the absence of federal regulation.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.