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What Can Northwest States Do In Face Of Federal Rollbacks On Climate Policy?

By Jes Burns (OPB)
Ashland, Oregon March 24, 2017 11:28 p.m.

The Trump Administration has issued an executive order rolling back fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and is expected to do the same soon for the Clean Power Plan. Both were designed to put the United States on a path to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Political leaders on the West Coast have condemned the decisions. The Governors of Oregon and Washington signed onto joint statements deriding the climate policy shifts, saying they will "chart a different course."

So how can Northwest states feasibly do that? We got your answers.

“Chart a different course” – that’s pretty big talk coming from our leaders on an issue as difficult to tackle as climate change. What do they mean?

There’s definitely a lot tied up in this statement. But front and center seems to be countering a Trump Administration narrative that climate change isn’t caused by humans and the regulations on greenhouse gas emissions are killing jobs.

Oregon Gov.  Kate Brown and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington are saying instead that humans are the cause and that our future economic prosperity depends on acting now to minimize climate change.

What is  Oregon and Washington’s role in this?

There are varying ways of looking at this.  Here’s one:

“If we don’t do what we can do, we’re in absolutely no position to be asking other entities, to do their share. We have to do our share. And then we can ask others to do their share. And then we can protect our corner of the globe,” said Alan Journet of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.

Another way of looking at our place in the grand scheme of things and accept that we are tiny. Not that many people live here. Our economies are pretty small and Northwest states don’t produce a lot carbon emissions.

“One percent of U.S. emissions are associated with Oregon and U.S. is maybe 15 percent of worldwide. So even if we had aggressive policies that were very effective that’s not going to make a big dent,” said Grant Jacobson, a public policy professor at the University of Oregon.


It does seem like Democratic leadership on the West Coast is taking the less fatalistic of the two approaches.

Are there ways to combat this problem of scale?

Yes. And the most obvious road leads us to California – which has made similar statements of resistance to the Trump administration. If the state of California were a country, it would have the 6th largest economy in the world. So as much as it hurts Northwesterners to admit it – it’s kind of a big deal. We could join forces with them.

What would that look like?

There's an organization called the Western Climate Initiative  – it's a carbon trading marketplace for states trying to limit industry greenhouse gas emission with cap and trade.

Right now in the Oregon legislature, there’s a bill that would set this kind of system up. That bill’s sponsor is Springfield Senator Lee Beyer.

“For a small state like Oregon, you got to hook on to somebody else, and what we’d be looking on to is not just California, but it’s the western provinces of Canada,” he said.

Quebec is a partner in the Western Climate Initiative as well.

Washington has a slightly different version of carbon trading in place.  And that state is expected to decide later this year if its industries can join that larger market.

What about transportation? Trump Administration seems set on reversing limits on pollution from vehicles.

The transportation sector contributes about 25 percent of national greenhouse gas emissions. And the president has called for a review of current car and truck fuel economy standards — with the intent of making them less stringent.

What Oregon and Washington can do here, once again, is hitch their wagons to California.

California has a special status under the Clean Air Act that allows it to set stricter pollution standards than the federal government. And other states can opt to use California’s rules.

Oregon and Washington has done this for tailpipe emissions. Oregon has signed on California's Zero Emissions Vehicle program, which ensures a variety of electric cars are available for consumers. Washington, interestingly, has not signed on to this program - so there's opportunity there.

If the fuel economy standards do weaken under Trump, it is possible that California could use their waiver to keep Obama’s ambitious goals. Northwest states have the ability to opt in.