News from Salem: Can we just adjourn already?

Well, we’re nearing the end of the 2015 session of the Oregon Legislature, and I think it’s fair to say it’s going to shake out as a disappointing session for the environmental community. Sierra Club staff have been closely tracking bills and meeting with legislators in Salem to advocate for clean, renewable energy, wildlife protection, our state forests, and more.

state capitol

But in short, it’s been a lot of work, with not much to show for it in terms of real conservation accomplishments. We’ll have a full rundown post-session, but here’s a quick summary of some of the work we’ve been doing in our state capitol:

  • Clean Fuels Program: If you’ve paid any attention at all to the news recently, you’ve likely heard the saga of the near-repeal of the Clean Fuels Program. Extending the sunset on Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program – which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Oregon’s transportation sector by 10% over the next decade – was one of the Oregon Conservation Network’s Priorities for a Healthy Oregon. Though it was the subject of much contention, the bill finally passed earlier this session and has been one of the few environmental victories in 2015. Unfortunately, it got wrapped up in partisan squabbling over a transportation package and was very nearly snatched away from us. While it is not a perfect program and is merely a first step toward solving our climate crisis, having it repealed would have been a real setback for the environmental community. Luckily, as of today, that effort appears to have stalled and the Clean Fuels Program is likely safe for now.
  • Toxic-Free Toys: Senate Bill 478, the Toxic Free Kids Act, will protect kids from exposure to toxics in children’s products by requiring manufacturers to notify health officials when children’s products sold in Oregon contain chemicals of concern, and then to phase out those chemicals for three product categories. The bill passed out of the Ways and Means Committee just this week and the prospects seem good for its passage.
  • Coal to Clean Energy: One of our biggest priorities coming into session – and another of the Oregon Conservation Network’s priorities – was our Coal-to-Clean package. Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729 would have moved Oregon’s investor-owned electric utilities – Pacific Power and PGE – off coal by 2025 and required that the replacement power for coal was largely renewable energy like solar and wind. And even though Oregonians overwhelmingly support the idea of getting coal out of our energy mix, and even though many legislators were initially on board with the proposal, the legislation died in committee. We were quite disappointed with that outcome and hope to bring these concepts back in the future, as we are committed to finding the right path to reach the broader goals of transitioning off coal to clean energy.
  • Solar and other clean energy: We’ve also worked on a number of other bills related to clean energy that remain alive in the 2015 session. House Bill 2447 will extend the very successful Residential Energy Tax Credit for home solar energy. HB 2632 would help to incentivize the creation of utility-scale solar power in the state. These solar energy bills are currently still moving through the legislative process and have the potential to be positive steps in the right direction if they can pass.

In addition, several bills relating to limiting or putting a price on carbon were introduced this session. House Bill 3470 – which would create a “cap and delegate” program similar to California’s – is the only one that remains alive. We’ll continue to monitor and support this legislation.

  • Elliott State Forest: The Sierra Club played a leading role in the coalition that got the Elliott State Forest designated as an OCN priority. As a process within the Department of State Lands (DSL) plays out to determine the ultimate future of the Elliott, we were working in the legislature to set up a process by which such a solution could be implemented. But the trust land transfer program we and Rep. Tobias Read were working to establish with HB 3474 died in committee on the bill deadline day. On the bright side, we were pleased to see the demise of HB 3533, which would have given the State Land Board and DSL license to sell off parcels of the Elliott to the highest bidder. We hope to be able to bring legislation in a future session to help reach a good solution for the Elliott.
  • Defending Wildlife: Just two weeks into the 2015 session, we saw renewed attacks on Oregon’s wildlife. House Bills 2050 and 2181 were two of the many introduced bills that would have allowed counties to opt out of a statewide ban on the practice of hunting cougars with dogs. Thankfully, those bills – along with a bill that would have prohibited the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission from including the gray wolf on the list of threatened or endangered species – died in committee and we seem to have mostly escaped any mischief on wildlife issues.
  • Suction Dredge Mining: One other bill we were supporting was Senate Bill 830, which would have taken steps to improve the regulation of suction dredge mining in our state. In addition to putting a cap on the total number of suction dredge mining permits, SB 830 would have placed limitations on mining – both in-river and on uplands – where it would undermine Oregon’s investment in habitat restoration for salmon and other critical species. The bill seems to have died late in session, but we plan to work with partners to bring back similar legislation in the 2016 session.

We’ll keep plugging away these last few weeks in Salem and will see where we end up. But we can’t do it without you, so stay tuned for ways to get involved and help pass good legislation to protect the Oregon we all love.

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