By Melissa Powers, GEI Director and Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark Law School
Ten years ago, Oregon began to position itself as a leader in climate change and energy policy. Governor Ted Kulongoski recognized the economic potential in renewable energy and he sought to establish Oregon as an epicenter for clean energy technology and business. He persuaded several international energy companies, including Iberdrola Renewables, Vestas, and SolarWorld, to make Oregon their U.S. headquarters. He also encouraged the Oregon Legislature to adopt a series of policies that aimed to advance the state’s climate and clean energy leadership. In relatively short order, Oregon became one of the leading developers of wind energy and one of the top states for clean energy employment. For a short time, it seemed that Oregon could become a clean energy powerhouse that would profit from in-state renewable energy development and from exporting innovative technologies, renewable energy, and expertise to other states.
Today, however, Oregon’s climate and clean energy progress has stalled. Only one small new wind farm has come online in Oregon since 2012, our wave energy industry is limping along, and we are on track to greatly exceed our greenhouse gas emissions goals. Our growing solar energy industry is at risk due to the pending expiration of existing incentives and changes to key solar programs. Unless we change course, by creating an administrative framework to guide and implement our climate and energy policies, we will cede our leadership to other states.
Thanks to the work of state and local lawmakers, agency employees, renewable energy industries, clean energy advocates, and the public at large, Oregon has a number of clean energy and climate policies in place. However, under our existing system, agencies implement specific policies on a piecemeal basis, and no single agency has responsibility for developing a bigger-picture strategy or ensuring that agencies coordinate their activities. This piecemeal approach is inefficient and often ineffective. For Oregon to regain its status as a clean energy powerhouse, we need an administrative structure that is capable of guiding Oregon through an ever-changing technical, economic, and political landscape.
Some lawmakers have begun to recognize the importance of effective policy administration. The legislature considered, but ultimately failed to pass, HB 2020, a bill that would have turned Oregon’s Department of Energy into the Department of Energy and Climate (ODEC). This reconfigured agency would have been responsible for developing a comprehensive climate and energy strategy for the state. It would also have coordinated the activities of the dozen state agencies involved in administering Oregon’s climate and energy laws. Finally, HB 2020 would have created a board to oversee ODEC’s work and provide ODEC with additional expert resources and insight. In short, HB 2020 would have created a long overdue administrative framework to ensure that Oregon’s many climate and energy policies work as expected. Although HB 2020 was not perfect, its passage was necessary for Oregon to regain and retain its status as a clean energy and climate leader. Its adoption would have benefitted all Oregonians through improved governance and economic returns. Let’s hope that Oregon’s lawmakers focus on passing HB 2020 or a bill like it during the next legislative session.