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Gov. Brown signs new West Coast climate change accord

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By PETER WONG
Oregon Capital Bureau

Gov. Kate Brown and three other regional leaders have recommitted the West Coast to action to ease climate change and speed up the transition to carbon-free energy.

Among the goals: Expanding access by communities to low-carbon technologies, extending the existing network of charging stations for electric vehicles, promoting a cleaner electric grid, and doing more to avert wildfires and limit smoke and other impacts. The new accord also reaffirms that low-income and minority communities also will benefit from environmental justice.

Brown joined the governors of California and Washington, and the premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia, at a ceremony Thursday Oct. 6, in San Francisco. The setting was Presidio Tunnel Tops, a new national park space that sits atop a tunneled parkway and reconnects the city to San Francisco Bay.

On Sept. 13, Brown joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Horgan in a virtual presentation at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference in Blaine, Wash., on the United States-Canada border.

What is now the Pacific Coast Collaborative came into being in 2013. In addition to the four states and provinces, it has all the region’s major cities — Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles — except San Diego.

Brown’s statement:

“The West Coast is united as we lead the way towards a clean energy future that helps our entire region and economies thrive. In Oregon, we have set ambitious goals to reach 100% clean energy sources, reduce carbon emissions, and comprehensively address climate change.

“We are committed to addressing the impacts of climate change while also meeting the needs of our most vulnerable communities. Together, we are showing that it is possible to address climate change and create good-paying jobs at the same time, as we move towards a stronger, cleaner, equitable future.”

Brown will leave office soon — she cannot seek a third consecutive term — and Horgan also is leaving his premiership. Inslee has two years left in his third term, and Newsom is expected to win a second term Nov. 8 after turning back a Republican-led recall attempt a year ago.

The four states and provinces have variations on similar policies.

A 2021 law commits Oregon to carbon-free power generated by its major private utilities by 2040 — the nation’s most ambitious target — and a 2021 plan by the Environmental Quality Commission has a goal of reducing heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions by 90% from their 2017-19 levels by 2050. Oregon also has a low-carbon fuels standard, modeled on California’s 2011 law, which the Legislature passed in 2015.

Democrats supplied virtually all the votes to pass the 2015 and 2021 laws, which no Republican supported.

But some of Oregon’s policies are under fire in the courts or the political arena.

The 2021 plan is being challenged by industry groups in the Oregon Court of Appeals. Republican Christine Drazan of Canby says if she is elected Oregon governor Nov. 8, she would move to suspend the fuels standard, which survived a challenge in federal courts. Oregon’s two big utilities — Portland General Electric and Pacific Power — supported the 2021 law on carbon-free power generation. They are required to submit plans to the Public Utility Commission, whose three members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate for four-year terms.

As House Republican leader in 2020, Drazan led a walkout — and Senate Republicans also did so — that denied majority Democrats from bringing climate-change legislation to a vote in either chamber. Brown then ordered state agencies to draft a plan. Nonaffiliated candidate for governor Betsy Johnson, then a Democratic state senator, had made it clear she would have opposed such legislation. The House speaker then was Democrat Tina Kotek, now her party’s nominee for governor, who recently accused both her main rivals of having “no plan and no intent” of developing a plan. (Johnson also opposed the 2015 and 2021 laws on carbon-reduced fuels and carbon-less power. Drazan opposed the latter; she was not a member in 2015. Kotek voted for both.)

During their Oct. 4 debate televised in most of Oregon, all three said they would support quick suppression of wildfires, and Drazan and Johnson advocated for increased cutting in forests to reduce potential fuels. Kotek called for greater resilience of homes and businesses in wildfire-prone areas, in addition to forest management.

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