Pointed debate question on climate change draws out starkly different views from Oregon governor candidates

Democrat Brown: Climate change is “the biggest challenge that we face.” Republican Buehler: “I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan”

During the final Oregon gubernatorial debate on October 9, the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Kate Brown, and her opponent, Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, had two opportunities to address climate change. Panelist Steve Duin, a columnist at The Oregonian, asked a pointed question about climate change, and a voter asked a question by video about clean energy, which also prompted discussion of the climate threat.

Media Matters is tracking debates in competitive Senate and gubernatorial races and encouraging moderators to ask candidates questions about climate change. See our scorecard.

From the October 9 Oregon governor debate:

STEVE DUIN (PANELIST): Rep. Buehler, you’ve made leadership an issue in the campaign, and I’m searching for some on climate change. You’re anti-coal, but pro-fracking. You’ve dismissed a carbon tax as an attempt to generate a $1.4 billion slush fund for green energy profiteers. When the threat of climate change has never been more urgent, why the milquetoast argument that Oregon has done or paid enough to address the problem?

KNUTE BUEHLER (R): Well, Steve, I reject a lot of the premises of your question, as you can imagine. I certainly believe in climate change. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote to transition Oregon away from coal-based electricity to renewable energy sources. It’s why I’ve spoken out frequently against the Trump’s administration policies, specifically with regards to withdrawing the United States from the climate accords. I’m against Gov. Brown’s cap-and-trade plan, or, probably a better description of it is a $1.4 billion sales tax on energy. And I’m against that because it’s going to hit hard-working Oregonians -- Oregonians who are struggling to pay the bills right now -- with a sales tax that they can’t afford. And importantly, those dollars won’t go to schools, they won’t go to providing health care; they’re going to go to a complex tax-credit scheme for green energy companies. And we’ve already had problems with that in the past, something called the “business energy tax credit scheme,” where hundreds of millions of dollars were misallocated to the extent that people have gone to jail for corruption. I don’t want to repeat that again.

DUIN: Gov. Brown?

KATE BROWN (D): The League of Oregon Conservation Voters agrees with you. My opponent has a lifetime ranking of an F based on his three years’ voting record in the Oregon legislature. I’ve continued to make steady, incremental progress on tackling global climate change, from reducing the carbon intensity of our fuels; from transitioning off of coal; from investing in EV rebates and public transit, which my opponent voted against; and we worked hard last session to reduce carbon emissions. We weren’t able to successfully complete the legislation, but we are working collaboratively with utilities, with the business community, and with the ag sector to make sure that we reduce carbon emissions in such a way that it doesn’t exacerbate already existing economic disparities in our low-income communities and our rural communities.

TRACY BARRY (MODERATOR): Our first video question comes from Ron Pernick of Portland. He works in the clean energy field. I just want to remind you guys that you’re both going to have a full minute to respond to this question, and Rep. Buehler, you’ll take the lead on this one right after we hear it. So here’s the question.


PERNICK: Gov. Brown, Rep. Buehler, solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in costs. Our neighbors to the south, California, and Hawaii to the west, have both enacted 100 percent renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?


BARRY: OK, I’m going to jump back in because I know you couldn’t hear that at the beginning. Ron’s question was, “Solar and wind are now the most cost-competitive sources of new energy, and energy storage is rapidly declining in cost.” And then he went on to mention “our neighbors to the south, California, to the west, Hawaii, have both enacted renewable energy targets by 2045. As governor, what will you do to ensure Oregon’s leadership in a clean energy future?” Representative, we’ll let you start.

BUEHLER: It’s a very important question, an issue of vital concern. I certainly believe in global climate change. I’m trained as a scientist, and the data is overwhelming. It’s why I was one of the few Republicans to vote for transitioning Oregon’s electrical generation capacity from coal-based to renewables, breaking with my party and even business interests. It’s why I have spoken out against the Trump administration policies with regards to environmental issues -- specifically United States withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. That’s the kind of leadership that Oregonians want to see on these important issues, and I think it’s important that we keep that balance though, the balance of improving the environment, but also taking into consideration there are hardworking Oregonians that are just struggling to get by everyday, to pay the bills at the end of the month. And, unfortunately, under Gov. Brown, we’ve driven up the cost of living in this state, the high cost of health care, of housing, and now, with energy costs, we have to be very, very careful that we don’t challenge people too much with regards to these issues.  

BARRY: Gov. Brown?

BROWN: As Oregonians, we’re all feeling the impacts of global climate change. In the Rogue Valley alone, this summer, they had roughly eight weeks of smog, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel 26 outdoor productions. So we’re feeling it. We need to continue to tackle this with every single tool in our toolbox because it is the biggest challenge that we face. And future generations will judge us, not on the fact of global climate change, but what we do to tackle it. So I’ve led to reduce the carbon intensity of our carbon fuels. Number two: We brought “Coal to Clean,” the first in the nation to transition away from coal-generated electricity and double our renewable energy portfolio by 2040. Lastly, invested in a transportation package, investing in EV vehicles and public transit. But, most importantly, this isn’t enough. And we need to move forward, and I believe that we can move forward and reduce carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs by 5,000 if we move forward on the clean energy job bill.