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Renew Oregon hopeful for action, but ready for a ballot fight

Renew Oregon says that if Oregon lawmakers don't pass a climate deal they''ll be ready to take it to voters next fall.

Tera HurstWhen clean energy advocacy group Renew Oregon announced they were submitting three initiative petitions to finish the work left uncompleted by the Oregon legislature around climate action in the 2019 session, many felt the coalition was merely hoping to pressure lawmakers into action.

On Wednesday they proved otherwise, announcing that in just 23 days they had gathered 6,000 unique signatures from 25 counties in support of their ballot measures which call for Oregon's economy to be completely carbon free by 2050.

Standing on the steps of the capitol, Renew Oregon Executive Director Tera Hurst said that while they hope Oregon's lawmakers can come to an agreement to get a deal passed with support from both sides, they're not optimistic and are fully ready to take this to the voters next fall.

While this isn't an unusual tactic for those looking to pressure elected leaders to act, the fact this coalition was able to gather the base sponsor signatures required to qualify for the ballot titling process in such little time indicates they have the broad support and resources it would take to gather the number of signatures (112,020) to make the ballot itself.

According to polling data conducted by FM3 Research, 70 percent of Oregonians approve of the clean energy standard by 2045 that's embedded in the ballot measures, with 67 percent in favor of caps on carbon pollution.

"These are the type of polling numbers that campaigns dream of," Hurst said. "If we have to go to the ballot, we will win. I say if because it is our expectation that elected leaders will follow through on their commitment to the people."

Although Hurst is hopeful that the legislature will move on climate action in 2020 and there's strong support for a ballot measure approach, her coalition is also considering what authority Gov. Kate Brown has for executive action.

According to Hurst, governors in New Mexico, California, Pennsylvania and North Carolina have taken climate action into their own hands, and Brown is perfectly capable of doing the same thing. Whether she, like Hurst, believes climate action is better left to the legislature is unclear but Brown has outwardly been a champion of this issue calling global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions a global crisis.

"A lot of the way these executive actions (in other states) work is they direct their agencies to administer, set up and study programs that will get them to their climate goals," Hurst said. "(Brown) has the authority to do that, it's not ideal, but it's a very close second best."

Some of those ways in which Brown could act include doubling Oregon's clean fuel standard, covering landfills to capture methane and creating new standards for the building sector that improves the baseline for energy use in new homes.

But for Hurst, it all comes back to going through the appropriate channels, and at this time, that's letting the legislature do its job.

"Personally think this state deserves one more shot at putting a price on carbon, creating 50,000 jobs for Oregonians and investing billions of dollars into transitioning to a clean economy," she said. "I don't think that that's something we should give up on."