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Republicans have little room to complain

Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday did what she said she would do if a measure to limit greenhouse gas emissions with a cap-and-trade system failed to pass in the 2020 legislative session. She issued an executive order designed to achieve the same emission reduction targets through administrative rulemaking.

Republicans can certainly criticize the move, and they can and likely will challenge it in court. But they can’t claim to be surprised. And they don’t have much room to complain that the governor’s approach is likely to be more expensive than Senate Bill 1530, which they blocked by walking out on the legislative session.

SB 1530 contained multiple concessions to address Republican concerns raised last year over House Bill 2020, an earlier version of cap and trade. This year’s bill phased in the system to delay its effects outside the Portland area, and exempted 17 counties outright.

Brown’s order doesn’t do that, or exempt some industries as SB 1530 did.

The governor doesn’t have the power to enact a cap and trade system on her own, which would set up a market allowing polluters to buy and sell emission allowances and pump the resulting revenue into communities across the state to back renewable energy projects. And Brown’s order won’t have any immediate effect. It directs multiple state agencies to develop new rules to reduce emissions in specific sectors.

Those efforts include directing the Department of Transportation to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations across the state and to electrify the state’s own fleet of vehicles. The building codes division is charged with dramatically increasing energy efficiency standards for new buildings, and the Energy Department is directed to increase appliance efficiency standards.

The Department of Environmental Quality is tasked with setting new emissions caps that gradually decline to meet the goals of reducing emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

To accomplish this, the Legislative Emergency Board voted on party lines Monday to appropriate $5 million to DEQ, allowing it to hire 10 people to implement the governor’s order. The order directs DEQ to develop the emissions reduction program by 2022, essentially the same timeline as SB 1530.

Republican lawmakers had already succeeded in forcing concessions from Democrats in the provisions of the cap-and-trade bill when they walked out and effectively ended the already short legislative session. Now, they face the very real possibility that the burden of the emission caps under the governor’s order will fall more heavily on some industries and on rural areas than would have been the case under SB 1530.

Republicans may succeed in blocking Brown’s move in court, although her legal staff insists the governor’s order was carefully vetted by Justice Department lawyers to make sure it was constitutionally sound. Either way, a court battle will be more public expense that could have been avoided if the Republicans had stayed on the job.