People-Powered Climate Action

Renew Oregon backs initiative petitions as Legislature decides how to tackle greenhouse gas emissions 

Oregon could have had a cap and trade law after the 2019 Legislative Session, but a few things went wrong. Republicans in the Senate fled to Idaho to rob the Democrats of a quorum. When Republicans returned, a couple Democrats got cold feet, leading Senate President Peter Courtney to axe Clean Energy Jobs. 

Renew Oregon, which had some climate activists in attendance when Courtney announced the Senate would not vote on the bill, is behind three initiative petitions aimed at doing something about climate change. 

The state is currently projected to miss its greenhouse gas emissions targets. 

State Sen. James Manning, who represents Junction City and parts of Eugene, says that if the initiative petitions make it on the ballot, Oregonians will have a chance to cap the state’s emissions.  

Brad Reed, communications director for Renew Oregon, tells Eugene Weekly that Oregon can’t wait another year to take action on climate change.

“It’ll have been four years by the time the Legislature gets together that Oregon has passed a climate protection law,” he adds. 

In 2016, the Legislature passed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act. The law requires two utilities, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power, to generate 50 percent of their electricity from wind, solar and geothermal by 2040. 

Because Clean Energy Jobs has been years in the making, the bill contains significant details on how to hold polluters accountable, Reed says. 

Rather than a ballot measure, “we would much rather prefer using the Legislature because of that level of detail,” he says. 

Manning, who served on the Environmental Justice work group for the Clean Energy Jobs bill, says the Legislature should’ve passed climate legislation three years ago.  

“We are behind the curve,” Manning says. 

But he adds that it’s difficult to pass legislation when some lawmakers don’t want to collaborate. 

There was a lot of misinformation spread about Clean Energy Jobs and how it would impact rural Oregon, Manning says. 

He sent EW a fact sheet for constituents addressing how HB 2020 would help coastal and rural Oregon. 

In the three-page document, some of the benefits he lists are: 40 percent of all investment goes to impacted communities; protection for the “flow of lumber to our mills”; and tax credits for gas price increases for low-income residents. 

Manning says he hopes a future cap and trade bill receives bipartisan support from legislators. 

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue, it’s a human issue,” he says. “And we need to look at it like that.”

In the meantime, Renew Oregon is backing three initiative petitions. Eric Richardson, executive director of Eugene’s NAACP chapter, is a chief petitioner of the three possible ballot measures. 

On Oct. 30, Renew Oregon held a press conference in Eugene to celebrate turning in more than twice the necessary signatures to start the ballot measure process.

“We know dirty coal and fossil fuels have disproportionately affected people of color for generations. We cannot wait any longer. If the Legislature won’t act, the people will,” Richardson said at the event.  

One of the petitions is titled 100 Percent Clean Economy, which would update and enforce the climate pollution reduction targets already set. 

If passed, the measure would force Oregon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2035. It would also press the state to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050, which is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says must happen to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

There are two versions of the 100 Percent Clean Energy measure. Both transition Oregon’s electricity to totally carbon-free sources by 2045, but the second petition requires electric utilities to invest in electric car charging and clean building technologies, according to Renew Oregon. 

Reed says Renew Oregon paid for polling, and results show voters are on board for climate action of some sort. 

The organizations says its polling shows 70 percent of Oregonians support the Clean Energy ballot measure concept. Sixty-seven percent of those polled support enforcing the state’s carbon emission reduction targets. 

The measures could be on the November 2020 ballot. 

Since Manning says there was a lot of misinformation spread about Clean Energy Jobs, he says that will happen during the campaigning for these ballot measures, too. But Oregonians will have a chance to chime in. 

“We won’t have to worry about people who were elected walking off the job,” he says.