We’ve now passed the midway point of the 2017 Oregon legislative session, and so far, it’s been something less than a walk in the park. As noted in previous updates, after several sessions with some real environmental progress (but also partisan divisiveness), we knew we would have a hard slog in making much progress in 2017. So things have gone pretty much as expected so far, and here are some updates on a few of the issues we’re working on.
This year the Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority has been to pass the “Clean Energy Jobs bill” to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and create a “cap and invest” program. After the Senate version of the concept (SB 557) met an untimely demise, the focus has shifted to the House version, HB 2135. That bill currently sits in the House Rules Committee, as the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee hold periodic informational hearings to sort through the details of the proposal. It’s still possible we can move a bill in the 2017 session and you can help by contacting your legislators to tell them it’s time to act on greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.
Another climate policy we were working on was the “Climate Test”, which was essentially 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 and subject such proposals to an environmental impact statement (EIS) with full lifecycle accounting of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, though we had good hearings in both the Senate and House environment committees, the bills failed to make it out of committee. But we hope to be back with this idea next session!
Our other top priority continues to be passing legislation that can help to solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. As described elsewhere in this month’s Oregon Update, we had a real victory on May 9, when the State Land Board voted to keep the Elliott in public ownership. Many details remain to be sorted out, including finding a pathway to $100 million in bonding and passing Senate Bill 847, the Trust Lands Transfer bill. But we are hopeful that a real solution can be found to preserve the Elliott for all of us.
One potential bright spot for this session might come with the bill to limit the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters. Senate Bill 3 passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote in April and it is scheduled to be voted on in the House any day now. While this bill has been compromised from its initial version, it will still have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon. We hope to see this legislation enacted into law very soon!
One bill that recently sprung to our attention is SB 990 – the “nuke in a box” bill. This bill would create a loophole for local government sponsored small modular reactor nuclear power plants that would sidestep Oregon’s 1980 voter-enacted moratorium on nuclear power plant construction until a permanent waste disposal site for high-level radioactive waste is established by the federal government. Unfortunately, this misguided bill escaped the attention of just about everyone in the Oregon environmental community and it passed the Senate without serious opposition. We are working now to make sure that it doesn’t have such an easy glide path in the House.
Another bill we’ve been working on is House Bill 2711, which would impose a 10-year moratorium on oil and gas fracking in Oregon. The bill passed out of the House in April, though unfortunately in a fairly partisan fashion, so its prospects in the Senate are slightly less bright. We are also working on a package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state. House Bill 2131 and Senate Bill 7 will help to improve safety and cleanup standards for the trains that are coming through Oregon. Both bills currently sit in the Rules committees of their respective chambers.
Senate Bill 1008 would have created more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. Unfortunately, that bill has been largely gutted and is no longer nearly as strong as it needs to be. We are supporting our allies’ efforts to make it stronger in the Senate Rules Committee. This legislation will also pave the way for Oregon to receive $68 million in Volkswagen settlement money to fund clean air work in our state. So we hope that we can get the bill back to the point where it will also get dirty diesel out of our air.
Finally, as many of you know, the transportation package is one of the major focuses for the Oregon Legislature this year. We are supporting our partners’ efforts to create a package that will invest in the infrastructure and services that most meet Oregonians’ needs: rural and urban transit, safe walking and biking options, clean air solutions, and public accountability. The outlines of the proposed transportation package have just been revealed and we are currently assessing how best to engage in that discussion.
So there have been both hazards and opportunities in the 2017 session, and we’re trying to make the best of the latter while avoiding the former to the extent we can. As always, our success depends largely on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!