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Oregon - Climate Resilience Planning Impacts to Local Development
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This article is intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

By Armand Resto-Spotts, Attorney, and Steve Shropshire, Attorney

This article was originally published in the April 9, 2020 edition of the Cascade Business News. 

The attorneys and staff at Jordan Ramis PC wish everyone the best during these difficult times. We are very aware of the difficulties that the COVID-19 outbreak is causing for wide swaths of our friends, clients, and economy. Although the following article does not address this outbreak, we are doing our best to serve our clients and drive our economy forward. To that end, we offer this article on an emerging topic that has long-term societal importance.

In early March 2020, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order requiring state agencies to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The executive order came in the wake of the 2020 Legislature’s failure to pass Senate Bill 1530, which was the majority Democrats’ cap-and-trade proposal. The order mandates emissions cuts that are more significant than those in SB 1530, but without the same structure and planning contained in the bill. Instead, Oregon agencies will now need to embark on extensive rulemaking processes to implement the mandated cuts. This, of course, means a great deal of uncertainty for Oregon businesses in the short term.

One possible indicator of how Oregon agencies may approach emission reductions is Washington’s “Plan for Climate Resilience” (Plan), recently published by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DNR’s Plan is a proactive planning model that outlines myriad recommendations, from legislative changes to practical implementation measures, that the agency believes will help mitigate the impacts of climate change.  

With respect to urban land development, the Plan proposes several local implementation measures that may address local climate change impacts. Those measures include reassessing road and critical infrastructure, “encouraging” climate-informed design, and “exploring responsible development” in transit-accessible locations.

As in Oregon, Washington administrative agencies are ramping up efforts to address climate change specifically in the context of local development review. DNR’s Plan is indicative of that clear political shift toward a statewide regulatory approach to addressing climate change consistently at a local level.

In the coming years, local jurisdictions will only continue to emphasize the need for sustainably designed urban development. This may be through specific conditions of approval requiring a certain amount of units to be built with particular materials or serviced through particular energy sources. Municipalities could encourage this locally by reducing impact fees applicable to a project.

Impacts on transportation will continue to be a significant point of emphasis in local review. Ideally, with greater state and local collaboration, including funding mechanisms, municipalities will have greater flexibility to incentivize a project proponent to design urban development that does not exacerbate traffic or act as a further stressor on road infrastructure. 

Further, all residential, commercial, and industrial developers should expect to see continued incorporation of climate change impacts into environmental reviews and decisions. As science is further tailored to address specific aspects of development, such as transit or land conversion alone, it is only a matter of time before local governments begin to employ climate-change related development criteria to land use decisions.

With Washington out in front of Oregon on these issues, it is possible that Oregon’s agencies will look to our northern neighbor for ideas on how the Governor’s executive order should be implemented. Ideally, a statewide approach should avoid a patchwork of new climate-related local regulation. Without that coherent overarching regulatory approach, however, the development community may be in for a long period of uncertainty.

Armand Resto-Spotts and Steve Shropshire are attorneys in the Jordan Ramis PC land use/development and environmental practice groups. Contact them at armand.resto-spotts@jordanramis.com, steve.shropshire@jordanramis.com, or (503) 598-7070.

Thank you for your interest in this article. The information contained in this article is for the general interest of the reader and should not be regarded as legal advice. If you have questions, or to obtain more information on this topic, please contact an attorney in our land use and development practice group.