Getting ready for the 2017 session of the Oregon Legislature

state capitolIn some ways, it feels like we just recessed from the 2016 legislative session, in which we had several real victories, like passing the historic Clean Electricity Coal Transition bill. But we’re already headed back to Salem next week for the 2017 session, which is going to be a tough one on many fronts (see this Oregonian article for some perspective). Nevertheless, we are hopeful for some good outcomes and here are a few of the issues we’ll be working on.

For the past several sessions, we have been a part of a coalition working to try to put a price on carbon in Oregon. We have gone through various iterations of “cap and trade” and “cap and delegate” bills and have had some good hearings and debates in the legislature. This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority will be to pass a “Clean Energy Jobs bill.” Legislators have put a lot of solutions forward so far, but for us to back a specific bill, it needs to meet our principles of an enforceable limit on emissions, a price on pollution, and equitable reinvestment in our communities. We’re working with legislators now to come up with the best solution for Oregon to create Clean Energy Jobs and hold polluters accountable. It is long past time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon; stay tuned for more details on this legislation and how you can help pass it.

Another climate bill we’ll be spending some time on is an idea called the “Climate Test.” In essence, it is a scaled-down version of a State Environmental Policy Act that would apply to fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Oregon. Like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), it would require cross-agency communications to consider the impacts of proposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Such proposed projects would also be subject to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with an economic analysis that will show whether a project is viable in a world where climate goals are met.

Our other top priority, along with the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be to pass legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As many of you will know, the Elliott has been the subject of much debate recently, as the State Land Board tries to dispose of it in order to satisfy its obligations to the Common School Fund. It’s not entirely clear just yet what form that legislation will take in the 2017 session. A Trust Lands Transfer bill similar to what we worked on in the 2015 session could be a part of that solution. But it’s clear we will need to think even bigger than that if we want to truly solve the Elliott problem.

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Other proactive legislation we will be working on is a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state; we need to both improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon, and make it more difficult to site oil trains terminals here. We will also be working on a bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters. There will also be a very large discussion in the 2017 session about finding a transportation package for the state, which has the potential to suck all the air out of the proverbial room, but which we’ll track and engage on as appropriate. Finally, we will play a supportive role on efforts to create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon.

Of course, we will be playing defense and fighting off bad bills at every turn as well. There will be the inevitable attempts to roll back public lands protections or hand some lands over to counties or private entities. There will be terrible wildlife bills to contend with, and indeed there are already bills out there again to lift the ban on hunting cougars with dogs. And the gigantic budget hole the state is facing will complicate everything in ways we can’t even imagine.

In short, the 2017 session will be fraught with both hazards and opportunities, and we hope to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success will depend largely on you, so stay tuned to find out how you can plug in to make a difference for Oregon.

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