Legislative Update: Free At Last!

We wrapped up the 2017 Oregon legislative session on July 7, and it’s safe to say the session wasn’t a rousing success for the environment. We had a few major victories that we should be very proud of, but many, many things were left undone. Here’s a wrap-up of some of the accomplishments and failures of the 2017 session.

The Oregon Chapter’s top legislative priority was to pass the “Clean Energy Jobs bill” to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and create a “cap and invest” program. Unfortunately, neither the Senate version (SB 557) nor the House version (HB 2135) reached a floor vote in their respective chambers. But over the course of the legislative session, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee convened a number of meetings to work through the policy details for the best version of a Clean Energy Jobs bill, resulting in the creation of Senate Bill 1070. Introduced in the waning days of the 2017 session, this bill synthesized much of the analysis done over the intervening months and incorporated many suggestions from our community. We believe SB 1070 will provide an excellent jumping-off point in the 2018 session, so that we can hit the ground running and not have to spend time analyzing policy details.

Our other top priority was to pass legislation to help solve the ongoing conundrum with the Elliott State Forest. After the State Land Board voted in May to keep the Elliott in public ownership, the focus shifted to finding a pathway to $100 million in bonding to begin the process of buying out the Common School Fund obligations of the forest. We also prioritized passing Senate Bill 847, the Trust Lands Transfer bill, to prevent future Elliott-like situations. And in one of our biggest victories of the 2017 session, we succeeded in doing both! See the separate blog post here for the exciting details.

And as was evident to anyone paying attention to the legislature this year, the transportation package was a primary focus for lawmakers. We worked in the Capitol to support our partners’ efforts to create a package that invests 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. Here again, after much wrangling – including over continued efforts to roll back the Clean Fuels Program in our state – we succeeded in passing a transportation package that met all those needs and kept the Clean Fuels Program intact!

One other real victory in the 2017 session was Senate Bill 3, which will go a long way toward limiting the impacts of suction dredge mining on our state’s waters. Governor Brown signed the bill on June 14 and then held a ceremonial signing with our coalition and key legislators on June 22 (see photo above). This victory was a long time in coming and it will have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon. Our coalition worked for years to make it happen and we should all be proud of our accomplishment!

Unfortunately, there were also a number of missed opportunities in the session as well. As already mentioned, the failure to move a Clean Energy Jobs bill was a major shortcoming. House Bill 2020, which would have reformed the Oregon Department of Energy and explicitly brought climate change into the agency’s purview, failed in the waning days of the session. Our coalition’s package of bills to address the critical issue of oil trains in our state (HB 2131 and SB 7) did not end up passing. And while Senate Bill 1008 was intended to create more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon, the final bill was so watered down that it will hardly accomplish anything useful.

So, clearly, there is still much to do in the 2018 session and in the interim leading up to it! The successes we did have this year were, of course, due to the support from you – our members and supporters. It was your calls, e-mails, and visits to your legislators’ offices that made the difference, and for that, we thank you very much. We now have our marching orders for the 2018 session, so please stay tuned for ways you can help us do much more next year!

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