July 17, 2024

Gas, oil companies argue against Oregon’s emission deadlines during Court of Appeals hearing

State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, told protesters after the Court of Appeals hearing on the climate lawsuit that wildfires had devastated his southern Oregon district. Several dozen activists and organizers took part in the rally Friday in support of Oregon’s climate goals. Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, is at far right. Oregon Capital Chronicle photo by Grant Stringer
October 1, 2023

Several dozen people gathered afterwards to support those rules, which require a 50% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035

By Grant Stringer

The Oregon Court of Appeals heard arguments Friday from gas and oil companies seeking to overturn a cornerstone of the state’s climate strategy, while environmental and labor groups rallied in a show of support for the regulations.

Oregon’s three natural gas utilities — NW Natural, Avista and Cascade Natural Gas —  are challenging the state Climate Protection Program, the state rules requiring gas companies and major industrial facilities to progressively cut greenhouse gas emissions. The program requires a 50% cut in Oregon’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and a 90% cut by 2050. 

At least a quarter of those reductions will have to come from the three gas utilities, which have made slow progress and may face fines. The climate program also created a carbon credit program for polluters, allowing them to earn credits in exchange for climate investments.

Attorneys representing the utilities and more than a dozen business advocacy groups argued Friday that the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality exceeded its authority with the climate program and that the regulations are too broad, which lawyers representing the state denied. It’s unclear when the Court of Appeals will rule on the case.

Supporting the legal challenge are the Oregon Farm Bureau; the Oregon Forest and Industries Council; the California-based Western States Petroleum Association, whose members include oil giants Chevron, Shell and Exxon; and other trade groups and oil companies.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Carson Whitehead represented the environmental quality agency, along with Maura Fahey of the Portland-based nonprofit Crag Law Center. Environmental groups, tribes and businesses have filed amicus briefs supporting the climate program.

NW Natural filed the case in March 2022 in the Court of Appeals, which first decides on cases involving administrative rules. 

After the hearing, several dozen activists and lawmakers rallies in support of Oregon’s climate rules. The program regulates climate-warming gases including methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Natural gas is about 80% methane and is responsible for about 13% of Oregon’s emissions.

NW Natural serves about 650,000 customers and is responsible for about 6% of emissions in Oregon, according to the company. 

Together, the three gas utilities will have to cut 1.25 million metric tons of emissions by 2025  equal to taking about 284,000 cars off the road each year  and more than twice that by 2028. To get there, the companies can use any technology to reduce their emissions, or buy carbon credits through the Community Climate Investment Fund, which will invest in electrification and clean energy projects in low-income communities and communities of color.

Megan Burge of the international law firm Baker Botts is one of the attorneys representing NW Natural. She argued Friday that the climate program unfairly targets utilities for providing natural gas, which is mostly used for home-heating and gas stoves. 

Burge said that customers also bear some responsibility for the emissions, and that the regulations will penalize customers, such as farmers who rely on diesel tractors. 

“Fuel does not combust itself,” she said. 

She also argued the state Public Utility Commission, not the Department of Environmental Quality, is the only state body that can legally require the emissions cuts. The commission sets rates for various utilities including Avista, Cascade Natural, and NW Natural.

However, Whitehead said state law clearly allows the agency to regulate utility emissions.

He said climate change is causing “real harm” to Oregonians through heat waves and extreme wildfires. His comment garnered agreement from Justice James Egan, who said the automaker Ford is introducing electric models of its popular F-150 “for good reason.”

After the hearing, Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, told several dozen activists at a rally on the stoop of the Oregon Supreme Court in Salem that wildfires had devastated his Southern Oregon district. He said the lawsuit by gas and oil companies is proof that the climate program is “bold” enough to meet the threat of climate change.

“We don’t have a choice but to be ambitious and bold,” Golden said.

Tim Miller, director of Oregon Business for Climate, helped craft the Climate Protection Program as a member of an agency advisory board. He said NW Natural and other utilities have plenty of flexibility to meet the mandates, which “simply require that they achieve their stated ambitions.”

NW Natural aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, in large part by selling renewable natural gas captured from landfills or cattle farms. However, the company reported in July that it is not on track to reach its target for delivering renewable gas. In February, the Public Utility Commission found that NW Natural is over-relying on renewable natural gas and green hydrogen technologies that aren’t widely available.

The commission also said that adding new gas hookups will hurt climate goals and customers’ wallets. The commission is allowing NW Natural to raise gas bills by 25% by next spring.

Greer Ryan, clean buildings policy manager for the nonprofit Climate Solutions, said the utility should pivot to invest more in electrification, energy efficiency and weatherization.

Grant Stringer is a freelance journalist in Oregon who writes for national newspapers like the Washington Post and outlets in the West, including the Capital Chronicle and the Oregonian/OregonLive. This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

Related Posts...

Fire reported outside Ashland only a ‘water dog’

Lighting on Monday appeared to spark a small fire outside Ashland but the apparent fire was only what’s known as a “water dog.” Oregon Department of Forestry Public Information Officer Natalie Weber confirms the apparent fire has been found by aircraft to be a “water dog,” or a small low cloud formed by water evaporating in the heat.

Read More »

Latest posts

Chris Honoré: A debate narrative

Chris Honoré: Donald Trump simply cannot win the presidency. He must not return to the White House. Perhaps he can last four more years, but our Democracy won’t. With a mixture of regret and urgency, the number of elected Democrats calling for President Biden to step down grows.

Read More >

Obituary: Jed D. Meese

Obituary: Jed Meese died on June 24 at the age of 86. Jed started several successful companies, each with a physician partner in Japan, Sweden, Turkey, and the UK, which designed and developed both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Jed was extremely generous and philanthropic to our community and nationally. He served on Boards of Directors and Foundations for Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Southern Oregon University, Ashland Community Hospital, Asante, Ashland Family YMCA, and many others.

Read More >

Obituary: Joyce Theresa (Brenner) Epstein

Obituary: Joyce Theresa (Breener) Epstein, 96, of Ashland died March 26. Her work has been dramatized by college and university theater arts departments, and she is the author of the chapbook, “A Journey Through Life Unguarded, The Book,” and “The Stars Gave Us Names.”

Read More >

Explore More...

Chris Honoré: Donald Trump simply cannot win the presidency. He must not return to the White House. Perhaps he can last four more years, but our Democracy won’t. With a mixture of regret and urgency, the number of elected Democrats calling for President Biden to step down grows.
Ashland's Street Division installed a colorful thermoplastic artwork piece titled "Walking Upstream." The work was designed by Glory Salinas Nylander and chosen by the Public Arts Advisory Committee and funded by the Ashland Beautification Initiative.
City Corner: Please remember, effective emergency preparedness means ensuring ALL your family members have access to Citizen Alerts, including older children with cellphones.
Jed D. Meese, known in the Rogue Valley for the many millions he and his family donated for the betterment of the community, died at home in Medford on June 24, 2024, at the age of 86. Friends and associates say the true measure of the man was in the contribution of not only his treasure, but also his time and talent and empathy.
Most Ashland High School grads don't know about the annual all-class reunion, which has been a tradition since 1894. This makes it one of the longest-running high school reunions in the entire country! The all-class reunion is now held every year on the first Saturday in August. logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.