Oregon governor candidates on how they’d handle climate change

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Sept. 16, 2022 1 p.m.

OPB asked Christine Drazan, Betsy Johnson and Tina Kotek about how they’d handle human-caused climate change.

Oregon voters are thinking a lot about climate change in this year’s election. In an August poll by the firm DHM Research, the issue was among the top five subjects likely voters reported they are weighing most heavily in the governor’s race — tied with abortion, but trailing inflation, homelessness and crime.


As part of a larger survey, OPB asked Republican Christine Drazan, Democrat Tina Kotek and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson about their approach to global warming. Their unedited answers are below. For more on the role Oregon’s next governor will play on climate change, click here.

Three people are pictured side by side

The three major candidates for Oregon governor. From left to right: Tina Kotek, Betsy Johnson and Christine Drazan.

OPB Staff / OPB

You have said that man-made climate change is real and should be a concern. The largest segment of greenhouse gas emissions – nationally and in Oregon – come from transportation. Do you support widening highways as a strategy to ease congestion? What specific steps will you take as governor to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles?

CHRISTINE DRAZAN: First, it’s important to start by acknowledging that Oregon is already among the greenest states in the country, due in large part to our ability to access renewable hydropower and other clean power sources. With respect to transportation, consumers should have the option to purchase an electric vehicle, it shouldn’t be a requirement and our current energy grid cannot support a prohibition on gas or diesel-powered vehicles. I support widening our highways, by building more lanes. I believe we can both reduce traffic times and reduce emissions from idling engines. But this is an incomplete solution unless we address jobs. We need to ensure that people can access work within a reasonable distance from the home that they can afford. As long as we place housing and jobs at opposite ends of the metro area, we will face congestion challenges, we must take a more holistic approach and provide economic opportunity to all communities.


BETSY JOHNSON: Of course I would increase highway capacity when necessary to more efficiently move vehicles through our highways. The more we maintain efficient flow, the less emissions will be released. I believe vehicle emission standards must be addressed federally to keep Oregon businesses competing on a level playing field.

TINA KOTEK: When investing in transportation infrastructure, we should be ensuring our roads and bridges are safe. We should also be adding transit options and improving bike and pedestrian access. I don’t think this is an “either/or” conversation. I believe we can have safe roads that aren’t clogged with traffic all day long and smart strategies to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. As House Speaker, I fought to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from Oregon’s transportation sector by initiating the Clean Fuels Program, which is now one of Oregon’s most successful policies for addressing the state’s role in climate change. In 2015, I overcame opposition from Republicans, big oil lobbyists, and Betsy Johnson to start this program, and now it has successfully reduced almost 6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and displaced over one billion gallons of fossil fuels. And, in the 2017 transportation package, I fought for a new program to help Oregonians buy zero-emission vehicles and the first statewide fund to support local transit.

As Governor, I will protect the Clean Fuels Program from the perennial attacks launched by the fossil fuel industry. I will also work with our federal partners to maximize the progress Oregon can make from the clean energy investments in the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, such as building out electric vehicle charging stations along highways and investing in cleaner buses and trucks.

Gov. Kate Brown signed Executive Order 20-04 in 2020, instituting declining caps on greenhouse gas emissions from some sources. Do you plan to rescind that order? If so, please describe any policy you would seek to replace it with. If not, how would you build on Brown’s order?

DRAZAN: I would tear up Governor Brown’s cap-and-trade executive order on Day One. It is an extraordinary abuse of power by the executive branch that will, in the end, provide little in the way of environmental benefits while harming businesses, consumers, and our overall state economy.

JOHNSON: Yes, I’d rescind that order in a heartbeat. Governor Brown’s ill-conceived executive order was intended to implement her failed cap-and-trade plan through regulatory fiat after she was unable to get it through the legislature. The governor should not be usurping legislative authority just because she can’t get her way.

As Oregon’s independent governor, I will lead the climate fight with practical, common-sense solutions: better forest management, green energy, and greater innovation in emission-reducing technologies. Democrats are right – we need to do more to reduce carbon pollution. But Republicans are right too – we don’t need to destroy good-paying jobs and rural economies to do it.

I’ll put Oregonians to work in the woods to better manage our forests, with thinning, controlled burns, and sustainable forestry practices. In addition to better forest management, I will continue pushing Oregon into a green energy future, including protecting the 100% carbon-free hydro that provides roughly 50% of our current electricity needs. Like Kate Brown, Tina Kotek wants to tear down critical carbon-free hydro, damaging our regional economy, Eastern Oregon agriculture and vital river transportation. The proposal to take out four Snake River dams could raise energy costs by up to 25%. Oregonians can’t afford that! I will defend our state’s clean and abundant hydro supplies.

KOTEK: No, I will not rescind that order or walk back our commitments to reduce air pollution. The executive order was only necessary because Christine Drazan led her fellow Republicans to walk off the job and derail an entire legislative session instead of negotiating in good faith to address the climate crisis. Both my conservative opponents have received major campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry and have spent years siding with big polluters. Climate change impacts like wildfires and extreme weather are already a major threat to our way of life and have deadly consequences, like last year’s extreme heat that killed nearly 100 people. That’s why I am committed to transitioning to a clean energy economy, one that provides clean renewable energy, grows jobs, and helps fight the effects of climate change.