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Opponents Of Oregon’s Climate Policies Argue For Another Chance To Sue

People gather on the Capitol steps in Salem, Ore., for a rally for climate action on Feb. 11, 2020.
Kaylee Domzalski
People gather on the Capitol steps in Salem, Ore., for a rally for climate action on Feb. 11, 2020.

A judge previously tossed an effort to kill a plan that would steeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Opponents of a statewide policy aimed at steeply decreasing Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions in coming decades faced a legal setback in November, when a Marion County judge ruled they didn’t have standing to sue.

Now, they’re hoping for a chance to retool their attack.

Earlier this month, a list of plaintiffs that includes many of the state’s largest trade groups — among them Oregon Business & Industry, Oregon Manufacturing and Commerce, the Oregon Trucking Association and the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation — asked for permission to amend a lawsuit first filed in late July.

In that initial attempt, the groups joined three individual businesses in asking a court to invalidate an executive orderissued by Gov. Kate Brown earlier this year. The order requires state agencies to enact rules and take actions that will result in a 45% reduction in Oregon’s greenhouse gas output by 2035, and an 80% reduction by 2050. Polluters in the industrial, transportation and natural gas sectors would have their emissions capped and gradually reduced by the state’s Environmental Quality Commission.

The initial lawsuitargued Brown’s order was unconstitutional. It said the governor was improperly taking over a function that should be carried out by the state Legislature, which has twice failed to pass a similar system after Republicans fled the Capitol.

But Marion County Judge Daniel Wren ruled in late November those arguments didn’t matter. Even if he were to ultimately conclude that Brown had overstepped, Wren wrote, “the executive agencies under the Governor’s authority could still proceed with promulgating rules regarding [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

Wren pointed out that none of those agencies was actually named as a defendant in the industry-backed suit, just the governor.

Supporters of greenhouse gas reductions cheered the ruling, saying it confirmed the legality of the policy, known as the Oregon Climate Action Plan.

But the plaintiffs say they’re owed another shot. They’ve asked Wren for permission to file an amended lawsuit specifically naming the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Environmental Quality Commission, two entities with a central role in Brown’s climate policy. They plan to ask Wren to block both agencies from further work implementing the order, arguing the agencies don’t have legislative approval for that work.

“The proposed amendment is timely, would not prejudice Governor Brown, and would allow the matter to proceed so that the Court could reach the merits of Plaintiffs’ claims of executive overreach,” attorney Joel Mullins wrote in a motion filed Dec. 17.

Wren had not ruled on the matter as of Tuesday morning.

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.