Bend Parkway traffic

Traffic fills the northbound and southbound lanes on U.S. Highway 97 on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 8, 2017, in Bend.

The Oregon Department of Environment Quality will not impose new regulations this year stemming from the governor’s executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide.

Instead, the proposed rules will be developed this year and next, with the expectation that caps and limits on emissions would take effect in 2022.

DEQ Director Richard Whitman told the Environmental Quality Commission at its Thursday meeting that the agency would focus for several months on the process for creating the rules. 

“We won’t even get into rulemaking until very late this year, beginning of next year,” Whitman said. “We are going slow in terms of not setting a whole lot of (boundaries) around this work early on, so that we make sure we do have that effective engagement from all Oregonians.”

On March 10, Brown issued an executive order directing the DEQ and 15 other state agencies to take stronger action against global climate change. The governor acted after the 2020 and 2019 legislative sessions ended without passage of Democratic bills to cap carbon emissions and create a system for trading carbon allowances.

Whitman acknowledged that the 2021 Legislature likely would take another run at carbon cap and trade, with some lawmakers pushing particular approaches and other lawmakers trying to stop them.

“That’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. It’s our democratic process, and I welcome that,” he told the commission. He has asked the DEQ staff to concentrate on the governor’s directive and not get distracted by the Legislature.

“If the Legislature ends up actually doing something, of course we will have to follow that direction,” Whitman said.

“Let the legislators do their work and don’t get upset by the legislators doing their work, but just keep focused on what our assignment is right now. And if the assignment changes, the assignment changes. I think the work that we’re doing is going to end up getting used in some way or another, even if legislative direction does change.”

He added that the DEQ’s work could help the Legislature understand the details of what a program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would look like.

Brown’s directive gave five responsibilities to the commission and department:

• Expand Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program.

• Establish regulations to limit and reduce emissions from industrial facilities, vehicle fuels and natural gas and other fossil fuels.

• Reduce methane emissions at landfills. Whitman said that action would be influenced by California’s regulations.

• Help reduce emissions in the transportation sector, which is Oregon’s largest source of greenhouse gases. Whitman said that could include tolling to reduce travel.

• Cut Oregon’s food waste in half, so as to reduce emissions from the wasted food itself and from producing, transporting and handling food that is never used.

The DEQ has until May 15 to give Brown a preliminary report on what authority the agency has to control air pollution and how it will go about creating the resulting policies.

In other business, the commission held off on approving higher fees for water quality and air contaminant discharge permits. Commissioners were concerned about the financial impact on businesses ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The DEQ staff will bring revised proposals to the commission in July.

The commission did approve fee increases for vehicle emissions inspections in the Portland and Medford-Ashland areas, as well as fees for Mobile On-Site Testing at auto dealerships.

Dick Hughes is a freelance journalist who has covered Oregon politics since 1976. Contact him at thehughesisms@gmail.com.

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