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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Good news at a bad time

Oregon climate activists have two causes for rejoicing. On Feb. 27, a Multnomah County jury refused to convict three members of Extinction Rebellion Portland for trespassing on land owned by fossil fuel transporter Zenith Energy. And on March 10 the governor issued a sweeping executive order to cut greenhouse gas emissions in our state.

The Extinction Rebellion defendants were allowed to present the necessity defense (see ashlandtidings.com/opinion/columns/herb-rothschild-jr-the-necessity-defense) to the six-person jury, and five of them were persuaded that the harm the defendants had acted to prevent outweighed the harm caused when they broke the law. Since it was a hung jury, not an acquittal, there could be a re-trial, but that’s an unlikely prospect.

The trespassing charge stemmed from an action last April, when the defendants and others built a garden by and onto the tracks of Zenith’s terminal, from which oil — including oil derived from tar sands — is shipped to Asia. They also sat on the tracks. Zenith had been expanding its facility to handle more than twice the number of oil trains now moving into Portland. This testimony to the persuasive power of the necessity defense is encouraging to those of us who’ve become convinced that the climate crisis will require us to put our bodies on the line.

Given the 12 Republican senators’ walkout of the short session to prevent the Oregon Legislature from passing the greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade bill — a repeat of their walkout last year — Kate Brown acted decisively to implement what a majority of Oregonians want. Her executive order changes the existing state carbon emissions goals to reflect current science, stipulating a 45% reduction from 1990 levels by 2035, and an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050. The order mandates a number of actions to reach the new goals, among them:

n Directs the Environmental Quality Commission to set and enforce sector-specific caps on climate pollution for transportation fuels, natural gas and large industrial polluters.

n Doubles the state Clean Fuels Program to reduce climate pollution from cars and trucks 20% by 2030 and 25% by 2035.

n Directs the state’s building codes division to move rapidly to increase energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, and directs the Department of Energy to make Oregon’s appliance efficiency standards equal to the most stringent in the country.

n Directs the Department of Transportation to create a statewide public electric charging plan to accelerate the usage of electric vehicles across the state. Also, to evaluate all future transportation spending, including road expansion, through the lens of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

n Directs the Public Utility Commission to help utilities achieve the new emission reduction goals, and directs it to implement the recommendations of the Governor’s Council on Wildfire Response to safeguard our grid from wildfires.

There is more. The entire executive order and the governor’s statement accompanying it can be read at oregon.gov/gov/Documents/executive_orders/eo_20-04.pdf.

We owe Kate Brown thanks for what she has done. It was brave and decent. And those who, like me, faulted her for not opposing publicly Pembina’s pipeline owe her something else. I learned from knowledgeable people that were she to make such a statement, it might be grounds for demanding that she recuse herself if the fate of the project were ever to hinge on action by the State Land Board, on which she serves. We owe her the benefit of the doubt.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.