2016 Legislative Wrap-up: Victory on Coal and Clean Energy!

Oregon capitol

It was a whirlwind session of the Oregon Legislature for 4 weeks of February (and 3 days of March). Sierra Club staff worked hard to track bills, provide testimony, and meet with legislators in Salem to advocate for renewable energy, wildlife protection, our state forests, and more. And though there were some real disappointments out of the session, passing the biggest climate legislation in Oregon in many years was a very significant victory!

It was a session marked by bitter partisanship on many fronts, underscored by parliamentary brinksmanship and some very long floor sessions. Many important bills got mired in the legislative quicksand and we were lucky to have emerged with something as important (and bipartisan!) as our Clean Energy and Coal Transition bill, given those circumstances. Clearly, it was your e-mails and phone calls that made the difference!

Here are some of the highlights of the 2016 short session:

  • Clean Energy and Coal Transition Plan: If you’ve paid any attention at all to the news recently, you’ve likely heard the inspiring news about the passage and signing of Senate Bill 1547, the Clean Energy and Coal Transition Bill. When Governor Kate Brown put her pen to this landmark legislation on March 11, it set Oregon on a path to eliminate its use of coal power by 2035 and double the amount of clean, renewable energy serving Oregonians to 50 percent by 2040.

The Clean Energy and Coal Transition plan was crafted by bringing diverse parties to the table, including Oregon’s two largest electric utilities, energy industry and business groups, and advocacy and community organizations. Chapter staff worked closely with the national Beyond Coal Campaign on this critical legislation. With it, Oregon has charted a bold course for the nation as we accelerate the transition away from dirty fuels of the past. Sierra Club members and supporters should be very proud of the role we all played in this victory!

  • Healthy Climate Act: Unfortunately, we did not see similar success with our other climate priority for the 2016 session. Senate Bill 1574, the Healthy Climate Act, would have held big polluters accountable for the cost of what they are dumping into our air and water by instituting a “cap and invest” program in Oregon. Similar to the program put in place by AB 32 in California, the bill would have put a cap on carbon emissions and helped to achieve Oregon’s goal to reduce pollution while creating incentives to accelerate the transition to a   clean energy economy. And though we failed to move the legislation this year, our coalition fully intends to be back in 2017, more motivated than ever to continue this critical work!
  • Solar energy: The Clean Energy and Coal Transition bill included some important provisions to help create a “community solar” program for Oregon and ensure that at least 10% of the program’s capacity be provided to low-income customers. We also worked to help pass House Bill 4037, which will dramatically increase the amount of solar energy being produced in Oregon by helping to ensure that 16 to 18 new large-scale solar projects will be built in Oregon over the next two years. In addition to the clear carbon reduction benefits of these large solar projects, they will also create hundreds of jobs and pour millions of property tax dollars into the coffers of rural Oregon communities that need it the most.
  • Defending Wildlife: Unfortunately, we did not do so well on wildlife bills in the 2016 session. On the bright side, for once we did not have to contend with any bills related to the hunting of cougars, and we did see the passage of House Bill 4046, which increased penalties for wildlife poaching.

However, one very disheartening loss was the passage and signing of House Bill 4040. Though this legislation was framed by its proponents as a mere “ratification” of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision to remove gray wolves from the state’s endangered species list, the effects of the bill were much more sinister. In addition to setting a bad precedent for the legislature to step in and review scientific decisions of administrative agencies, the bill was also revealed to be a blatant attempt to moot out a lawsuit that had been filed by several groups that disputed the scientific basis of the Commission’s delisting decision. Despite the best efforts of the conservation community, the bill passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor on March 15.

  • Suction Dredge Mining: One other disappointment from the session was the failure to pass Senate Bill 1530, which would have taken steps to improve the regulation of suction dredge mining in our state. Though the bill appeared to have had the votes to pass, it unfortunately got caught up in the partisan wrangling and bill trading at the end of the session and it died without a floor vote. Some questionable tactics by the opponents of the bill added to the frustration over failing to pass it and led to some strong statements of disappointment by the bill’s lead sponsor on the Senate floor. Again, it was a discouraging end to some common-sense legislation, but we hope to work with partners to bring back similar legislation in the 2017 session.

So that’s a wrap on the 2016 session! Many thanks to our members for all of their e-mails and phone calls to legislators; we could not have passed the historic Clean Energy and Coal Transition bill without you! Relish that victory, folks, and here’s to even more successes in 2017!

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