Oregon Appeals Court invalidates state’s groundbreaking climate regulations

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By Carina

The Oregon Court of Appeals delivered a significant blow to the state’s climate change efforts by overturning the Climate Protection Program (CPP), a groundbreaking initiative designed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel entities by 90% by 2050. 

This ruling, issued on Wednesday, reflects a legal setback for Oregon’s climate objectives, questioning the future of one of America’s most ambitious environmental policies.

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Oregon’s climate policy faces legal setback as Judge deems key rules invalid

The CPP, introduced in the previous year, was hailed as a landmark in the fight against climate change, setting an ambitious goal of cutting emissions by 50% by 2035 and 90% by 2050. 

However, the state’s approach to enacting these rules faced criticism for not fully adhering to the disclosure requirements of the 1970 federal Clean Air Act. 

“We conclude that the CPP rules are invalid,” stated Judge Jacqueline Kamins, highlighting the failure of the Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) to meet these standards.

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Oregon’s climate policy overturned due to lack of disclosure

The overturning of the CPP followed a legal challenge spearheaded by a coalition of farmers, fossil fuel companies, and other stakeholders. Central to the controversy was the EQC’s rulemaking process. 

The petitioners, led by companies like Northwest Natural, Avista Corporation, and Cascade Natural Gas Corporation, contended that the EQC did not provide adequate explanations or consider alternatives when exceeding federal limits. 

This lack of disclosure, as argued, was pivotal in the court’s decision.

Oregon climate policy invalidated over Title V permit violation

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Judge Kamins elucidated the crux of the objection: the EQC’s failure to meet disclosure requirements for Title V permits under the Clean Air Act. 

“Because EQC, when adopting the CPP rules, did not comply—or even substantially comply—with the heightened disclosure requirements applicable to it when adopting rules that apply to Title V sources, we conclude that the CPP rules are invalid,” she wrote.

The significance of Title V in this context cannot be understated. As part of the Clean Air Act it mandates states like Oregon to enforce federal air quality standards through a permit system for significant emission sources. This framework is vital for balancing state initiatives and federal environmental mandates.

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Mixed reactions to Oregon climate policy ruling

In the wake of the ruling, reactions from various stakeholders have surfaced. 

Lauren Wirtis, representing the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, expressed that the court’s decision stemmed from an administrative error and didn’t outright invalidate the CPP. 

“The court did not make a decision about whether the Environmental Quality Commission has authority to adopt the Climate Protection Program,” Ms. Wirtis stated, suggesting the possibility of future actions by the department.

Diverse responses to Oregon climate policy ruling

On the other side, David Roy, a spokesperson for Northwest Natural, welcomed the decision, emphasizing the company’s commitment to a low-carbon future. 

“We believe in effective climate policy and remain committed to moving toward a low-carbon energy future while safely and reliably serving our customers,” Mr. Roy conveyed.

In a united front, environmental and social justice groups, represented by Nora Apter of the Oregon Environmental Council, pledged to continue their efforts. 

“We will not stop holding the oil and gas industry accountable for the impact it is having on our lives, our families, and our communities,” she asserted.

Oregon climate policy faces uncertainty after court ruling

This ruling marks a pivotal moment in Oregon’s environmental policy, raising questions about the balance between state initiatives and federal compliance. 

As stakeholders reassess their strategies, the future of the CPP and similar climate policies remains uncertain. 

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s next steps, potentially in collaboration with the state Department of Justice, will be crucial in shaping the state’s environmental trajectory.

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