Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is pushing back against Trump administration rollbacks of environmental protections at the federal level. On Wednesday morning she announced legislation that would maintain Oregon’s water and air quality rules at the same level or higher than they were the day before the president took office.
One of the stated goals of the legislation is to protect public health welfare from the adverse effects of pollution and climate change.
With the new legislation, called the Oregon Environmental Protection Act, Brown said she is looking to inspire a national movement of states to oppose what she called the “unprecedented and aggressive attack” on clean air and water.
“Today we’re standing together to take the next step to protect the beauty and bounty of Oregon for future generations,” Brown said at the announcement in Portland. “To again cement Oregon’s place on the cutting edge of environmental stewardship”
The Trump administration has undertaken several actions to overturn or delay environmental laws from taking effect. This ranges from carbon-emissions goals in the Obama-era Clean Power Plan designed to help the United States meet international climate goals to protections for wildlife — and from regulations of pesticides, ozone and mercury to expanding fossil fuel development on public lands.
Brown’s proposed legislation focuses on the federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. Both are regulated and enforced at the state level by Oregon agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality, the Oregon Health Authority and the Water Resources Department. In most instances, the federal laws allow states to establish more stringent environmental protections than required nationally.
“It basically is a clear legislative statement and directive to the relevant agencies and to the Environmental Quality Commission that you will maintain the current standards,” said Lewis and Clark law professor Craig Johnston.
Here, the regulatory agencies would maintain the status quo.
“And you will do whatever is necessary to implement what the Obama administration did at the very end that we have not yet implemented,” he said.
Several of the changes to clean water and air quality laws happened late in Obama’s presidency — so late that Oregon has not yet gone through the administrative processes needed to enforce the new rules. If passed, regulatory agencies would instruct the regulatory agencies to move forward.
The governor’s office said, if passed by the Legislature, the Oregon Environmental Protection Act would maintain Obama-era ozone emission standards, regulate methane and other pollutants from landfills, as well as mercury emissions from the state’s one remaining coal power plant and extend water quality protections to some to the state’s rivers and streams.
The proposed act would solidify a statewide policy opposing the national push towards environmental deregulation.
Of course, it would have to pass the Democrat-controlled state Legislature first, which has balked at some new environmental legislation in recent years.
“The whole point of this initiative, is that if enough states say, ‘We’re not going to do it,’ then all the sudden the impetus for change at the federal level declines significantly,” Johnston said, pointing to the economic power of states like California and New York, which have opted for stronger environmental standards in the past.
The governors office says it is reaching out to other states about the plan.
While Brown has joined other West Coast leaders in opposing Trump administration policies on climate change and vehicle emission standards, this kind of legislative proposal could position her in a more prominent leadership role nationally.
Brown is up for re-election in November. Wednesday’s new policy push comes one day after the first gubernatorial debate between her and challengers Republican Knute Buehler and Independent Party candidate Patrick Starnes.
Asked to comment on Brown's proposal, Buehler said, if elected, he would “defend Oregon” against Trump administration environmental roll-backs. He says he has broken with his party on climate change and clean power issues in the past. Starnes said he supports Brown’s strategy and would follow suit if he is elected governor