The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will not appeal a court decision that invalidated the state’s Climate Protection Program, which was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel companies. The existing program will become null, and the agency could take up to a year to reinstate it.
On Monday, DEQ announced it will restart a rulemaking process to create the program a second time, after the Oregon Court of Appeals found the program failed to comply “or even substantially comply” with disclosure requirements under the federal Clean Air Act.
The Climate Protection Program created limits on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and natural gas companies, with a target of 90% reduction in emissions by 2050. The program began in 2022 and was one of the strongest climate programs in the nation until the court ruling.
According to DEQ, the court’s decision does not impact the agency’s authority to establish and enforce the programs.
“The Climate Protection Program is a critical component to meeting Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction goals,” DEQ Director Leah Feldon said in a statement. “Instead of pursuing the lengthy and uncertain appeals process, we’re taking the shortest path to reinstating the program — going back through the rulemaking process.”
In early 2022, fossil fuel companies in Oregon sued DEQ’s Environmental Quality Commission and sought to block the climate program entirely by arguing the commission overstepped its authority by creating the program.
NW Natural, one of the petitioners, said in a statement on Monday that the company looks forward to working with the agency and stakeholders to develop “constructive solutions that address our shared climate goals.”
DEQ’s decision to restart the rulemaking process would delay implementing the program by at least a year, DEQ communication manager Lauren Wirtis said, as it will include creating a rulemaking advisory committee and a public comment period.
“Our priority is to get this done as soon as possible so that we can restart the program,” she said.
In December, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled only on a technicality of the rulemaking process, and Wiritis said the court has not yet ruled on every claim the fossil fuel companies brought up. Because of the uncertainty this creates, Wirtis said, the agency decided the fastest way to reinstate the Climate Protection Program would be restarting the rulemaking process.
“We still do have all of the research and everything that we considered as information, and we can lean on that and take into consideration any new research that’s come to light,” she said. “We have a lot of analysis that’s already been done, so we’re not starting from complete square one.”
Under the Climate Protection Program, fossil fuel suppliers were able to reduce emissions through the program’s Community Climate Investment credit program. The investment credit program was designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in underserved communities, and also to improve public health and help communities transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The climate credit program will also be canceled until new rules are in place.
“That means that getting meaningful projects on the ground to support communities that are most impacted by climate change is also delayed,” Wirtis said.
A coalition of environmental and climate justice groups said in an emailed statement that delaying the program only continues to impact underserved communities, like Black, Indigenous, people of color, low-income, rural communities, already bearing the brunt of climate change.
“We are in the decisive decade for climate action,” the coalition of groups said in an emailed statement. “Without the Climate Protection Program, Oregon simply does not have an adequate or workable plan to achieve the state’s climate goals. Our state also misses out on the innovation, job creation, and energy cost savings that this program will drive, that are vital for our economy and household budgets.”
Wirtis said the rulemaking process has already begun and DEQ will inform the public about it in the coming months.