$100 Million: A first big step on the Elliott State Forest!

July 13, 2017

by Rhett Lawrence, Conservation Director

After many years of doubts about the future of the Elliott State Forest, we may finally have turned the corner on saving it, thanks to Governor Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read, and the Oregon Legislature. As you will read below, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Governor, the Treasurer, and the legislative leaders who came together to find a solution for the forest.

Like many of you, I breathed a sigh of relief in May when the State Land Board voted to keep the Elliott open and accessible to all. But even after that, we knew there was one further huge hurdle that we needed to get over in the 2017 session of the Oregon Legislature. In order to ensure a solution for the Elliott that works for everyone, we needed for legislators to approve the $100 million in bonding proposed by Governor Brown to withdraw the most sensitive areas of the Elliott from its obligations to generate revenue for the Common School Fund. And in an era of constrained budgets all around, we knew that getting $100 million was a tall order indeed. But wonder of wonders – the Legislature approved a bonding package in the waning days of the 2017 session that did just that!

Appropriating that $100 million was a huge accomplishment, no doubt, but in many ways, it is just a down payment on the future of the Elliott. Under Governor Brown’s plan, the bonding money will be used first to end the state’s obligation to excessively log the most sensitive areas of the forest to fund our schools. Next, the Governor’s plan would establish a “Habitat Conservation Plan” for much of the rest of the land, developed in partnership with tribal governments, conservation groups, and other community members. This would allow some logging to occur, while also protecting endangered and threatened species such as spotted owls and murrelets.

Treasurer Tobias Read has also presented a complementary plan that allows Oregon State University an option to buy the Elliott for the $121 million remaining after the $100 million bonding down payment in order to manage it as an experimental forest. And whether we now move forward with the Governor’s plan or the Treasurer’s plan – or some combination of the two – we at the Sierra Club also welcome the possibility for some of the lands to be returned to the Tribes who occupied the area long before it came into state or federal ownership. But by getting the bonding approved, we have taken a big first step toward preserving and protecting the Elliott for all of us – the hikers, hunters, anglers, bird watchers, and Oregon’s diverse communities.

In addition to finding the bonding money for the Elliott, the Oregon Legislature also passed Senate Bill 847, establishing a Trust Land Transfer program in Oregon for the first time. This program could help prevent future Elliott-like situations by providing a mechanism by which money could be appropriated over time to purchase encumbered lands. Washington State has had a similar program since 1989 and has moved nearly 120,000 acres of encumbered trust lands out of the trust to benefit school kids and the environment. We are excited by the passage of SB 847 in Oregon and we hope it can help us replicate many of the successes of the Washington program.

So, obviously, much more work remains to be done on the Elliott. But we should be very happy with the successes we did achieve in the 2017 legislative session – and in the years leading up to it, where we were always teetering on the edge of having the forest sold off to the highest bidder. We are thrilled that we have taken the first steps toward a solution that results in a forest that is preserved for all of us – the hikers, hunters, anglers, bird watchers, and others. And importantly, the Sierra Club is hopeful that Tribes can be a part of that solution and that past injustices regarding the seizure of their ancestral lands can be remedied in part.

No one believes that any of the rest of this will be easy, but we now at least have reason to believe that we are headed in the right direction and for that we should all be thankful.

Legislative Update: We’re in the home stretch!

June 16, 2017

As we enter the final month of the 2017 Oregon legislative session, it’s becoming clear that this year won’t be notable for its environmental successes. We’ve had a few victories and are hoping for a few more, but right now, it may be all we can do to stave off some real rollbacks! We need your help to save the Clean Fuels Program and get us to the finish line on the Elliott State Forest, among other things. See below for ways you can help!

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. House Bill 2135 currently sits in the House Rules Committee, as the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Environment Committee have held 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.

(Photo by Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands)

Our other top priority continues to be passing legislation that can help to 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 has now 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 would also like to pass Senate Bill 847, the Trust Lands Transfer bill, to prevent future Elliott-like situations. Take action here to contact your legislator and help find a real solution to preserve the Elliott for all of us.

As many of you know, the transportation package is one of the major focuses for the Oregon Legislature this year. We have been 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. Unfortunately, that transportation discussion has again been hijacked by an effort to roll back the Clean Fuels Program in our state. We need for you to contact your legislator today to tell them we need BOTH transportation improvements and the Clean Fuels Program.

We do have one real victory already in this session in the form of Senate Bill 3! That legislation 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 will be holding a ceremonial signing of the bill very soon, so keep an eye for our pictures from that event. This victory was a long time in coming and it will have real benefits to salmon habitat in Oregon. Our coalition has worked for years to make it happen and we should all be proud of our accomplishment!

We are also still 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. SB 7 is in the Senate Rules committee and HB 2131 is in the Ways and Means committee and we are hopeful one or the other can move this session.

Senate Bill 1008 would have created more stringent standards for diesel emissions in Oregon. Unfortunately, that bill has been largely gutted and no longer really does much of anything useful. 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.

So we’ve got lots to do in these last few weeks of the 2017 session! As always, our success depends on you, so keep calling, writing, and e-mailing your legislators and making a difference for Oregon!

Mosier Derailment Anniversary Observance and Rally

June 12, 2017

When oil trains derail, they explode. We saw this happen last year in Mosier, Oregon, dangerously close to the community school. Children had to be evacuated and families remained separated without any way of contacting each other for hours. On the first anniversary of this catastrophe, June 3rd, over 250 community members from across the region gathered to call for an end to reckless oil trains on the one-year anniversary of the dangerous oil train disaster in Mosier, Oregon. Tribal leaders, elected officials, and community members gathered at the Mosier Community School to send a clear message of support for Mosier.

All were united in their resolution to stop the flow of bomb trains to transport explosive, toxic crude oil through our communities.


Tribal hip hop artists Kunu Dittmer and Fish Martinez shared their music at the rally. Their music resonated with the audience. Photo Credit: Gregory Monahan


Photo Credit: Gregory Monahan


Photo Credit: Kyle Ramey

Chairman of the Yakima Nation, JoDe Goudy, shown above and to the right, gave a highly evocative speech expressing empathy with the residents of Mosier telling them that they were collateral damage of a corporate business decision. He reminded us that tribal people are very familiar with the feeling that their lives and culture don’t matter and that we were all standing on tribal lands taken using “the doctrine of discovery” established by Papal Bull in 1493.







Photo Credit: Kyle Ramey

Following the rally, participants marched to the sight of the derailment and down to the banks of the Columbia River where oil from the conflagration enter the river.

If you want to work to halt toxic dirty fuel trains through our communities contact:

Cecile Gernez, Conservation Organizer, Sierra Club Washington State Chapter, cecile.gernez@sierraclub.org

Coal to Clean, NOT Coal to Gas

June 12, 2017

Early this year, the Oregon Chapter’s Beyond Gas and Oil Campaign and the Beyond Coal Oregon Campaign recognized that they both wanted the same thing:

  • In general to stop the spread of natural gas usage
  • In particular, to block PGE’s plan to go From Coal to Gas instead of Coal to Clean
  • We also recognized that this was an opportunity to push FOR what we WANT, A Clean Energy Future,  as well as AGAINST what we DON”T WANT, A  Dirty Fossil Fuel Future.

Laura Stevens, Sierra Club Beyond Coal, Organizer speaks at the rally before the May 15th hearing held in Portland by the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Banner made by volunteer members of the Oregon Chapter’s Clean Energy Task Force. Photo Credit: Colin McLean

The Beyond Coal Campaign has spent  years of setting expectations of replacing the Boardman coal plant with clean energy, including in our work together with allies to pass the historic Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act last year. Portland General Electric (PGE) instead proposed to replace the retiring Boardman coal plant with a total of 1300 MW of fracked gas. Back in November they filed a very flawed Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) that tipped the scales entirely towards more self-built gas resources to replace Boardman – for a total of 3 units at the Carty Generating Station right next to the Boardman Coal Plant. In a parallel process they also began to pursue all the required permits for the two new units including requests to increase their emissions limits at the first existing unit.

Adopting the latest strategy for developing effective campaigns, the Sierra Club recruited a strong network of groups to work on developing a shared strategy to significantly increase the public pressure on the company and the agencies in charge of the various approval processes. Over 15 different local groups came together to form the Carty Gas Working Group and began meeting weekly. It turned out that we had a very compelling ask: Do you want a Clean Energy Future?


Students lead the way to a Fossil Fuel Free Energy Future, after the rally, activists marched to the PUC public hearing from the nearby park. Photo Credit: Colin McClean

In March we submitted a record 7,000 comments to the Energy Facilities Siting Council (EFSC) opposing the permits required to expand the Carty gas plant. On May 15th we broke another record submitting 10,000 public comments to the PUC directing them to reject any plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure and to do what they could to facilitate a faster transition to 100% clean and renewable energy.


Volunteers from the broad coalition of groups who helped gather of 17,000 comments (7,000 to EFSEC and 10,000 to the PUC pose with the boxes that were presented to the PUC at the May 15th public hearing. Each box represents 1,000 comments. Photo Credit: Colin McClean

In March we submitted a record 7,000 comments to the Energy Facilities Siting Council (EFSC) opposing the permits required to expand the Carty gas plant. On May 15th we broke another record submitting 10,000 public comments to the PUC directing them to reject any plans for new fossil fuel infrastructure and to do what they could to facilitate a faster transition to 100% clean and renewable energy.


Volunteers deliver comment cards to the PUC while students deliver testimony reminding  the commissioners that they will inherit the future created by the decisions made in the present. Photo Credit: Gregory Monahan

The Sierra Club is also an intervener in PGE’s  IRP docket at the PUC and on May31st, we submitted our final technical comments making the strong case that

  • the company has not justified any long term capital investments and
  • they did not adequately assess the risks associated with building new fossil infrastructure or
  • the many alternate options on the market including deeper energy efficiency savings as well as other short term market contracts that help satisfy the near term need.

The Sierra Club’s final recommendations concluded that “ratepayers may be better served with a short-term contract now so that they can pursue lower cost options in the mid to long term. A long-term resource decision made now to fulfill a 2021 capacity need could foreclose future, lower cost options—such as wind near the Colstrip site.”

The staff at the PUC also submitted their final reply comments into the docket and they were scathing in their critique of the company’s process as well as their conclusions. The commission staff ultimately determined “we cannot conclude anything other than that key parts of the plan do not fully consider or adequately plan for the significant changes that are expected in the electricity industry over the next five to ten years” and “staff recommends the Commission not acknowledge PGE’s Action Plan item to issue an RFP for dispatchable capacity between 375 – 550 MW.” While this is great progress the staff did leave open the possibility for the need for dispatchable capacity in the near future as well as an IRP Update which may include one or both of the gas units or may instead include purchasing an existing gas plant to serve Oregon.

PGE also submitted letters to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and to the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) asking them to suspend any further process to approve their pending permits for expanding the Carty Generating Station. These suspensions are not equivalent to permanently withdrawing their intentions to move forward with these plants and the permit processes can be restarted at any time. Some consider this move a calculated public relations strategy attempting to derail the momentum and enthusiasm for our campaign days before our much anticipated public hearing. If that was the intention it was not successful.


Over 100 members of the public lined up to speak to a packed hearing chamber in the PUC public hearing on May 15th. Photo Credit: Colin McClean.

On Monday May 15th, the PUC held a special public meeting in Portland at our request to give ratepayers a needed voice in these often very wonky proceedings. PGE and the standard array of stakeholders who are interveners in the docket were asked not to testify. This was an opportunity for PGE and the PUC to hear directly from ratepayers and the community at large. Together with our allies from the Carty Gas Campaign working group and our incredible teams of comment card collectors and phone-bank recruitment volunteers we held a rally before the hearing and then packed the hearing room with 260 people. 105 people had the opportunity to testify in near unanimous support for rejecting plans for any new gas serving PGE ratepayers as well as showing deep support for a full transition to 100% clean and renewable energy.  Messengers at the hearing included renewable industry groups and developers, a Building Trades rank and file member, high school student climate activists, the Mayor of Milwaukie, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Chair of the Global Warming Commission of Oregon, a Unitarian Minister, a Zen Teacher, and many long time PGE ratepayers.

The fight to stop these gas plants is not over and we have a few more key decision points to manage in the PUC process, including the reply comments from PGE due in June and a final public hearing at the commission in early August. The commission will issue its final order on August 31. Our campaign hopes to see a positive resolution to the question of expanding Carty in that order and then we turn our sights to supporting all the other ways we can leverage the replacement of Boardman with clean and renewable energy.

An outgrowth of this campaign was the passage of 100% Renewable Energy Resolutions by Portland and Multnomah County which you can read about in a companion blog post.

This blog post was written by: Amy Hojnowski, Senior Campaign Representative, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club and Gregory Monahan, Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team, Oregon Sierra Club.

If you want to be a part of creating An Energy System Free From Fossil Fuels Closely coupled with: A Just Equitable Transition Where All Members of Society Have Their Voices Represented and Can Thrive Contact one of the following people:

Nakisha Nathan, Climate Justice Organizer, nakisha.nathan@sierraclub.org
Laura Stevens, Beyond Coal Organizer, laura.stevens@sierraclub.org
Gregory Monahan, Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team, gregory,monahan@oregon,sierraclub.org

See below a compilation of the best of news clips from the campaign as well as rally and public hearing photos. For archived livestream video of the hearing with testimony see here and for archived livestream video of the rally see here.

The Oregonian – Opinion: PGE faces critical choice on Boardman gas-plant

Portland Business Journal – Sierra Club: PGE ‘backsliding’ on renewables commitment

East Oregonian – Tribal members petition against Carty expansion

Portland Business Journal – PGE gas opponents hit state siting council with deluge of comments

Oregon Public Broadcasting – Climate Activists Tell PGE: Don’t Even Think About New Natural Gas Plants

Portland Business Journal  –Protest of Portland General Electric’s resource plan takes a fracking twist

Portland Tribune – PGE may opt against natural gas plants to replace coal plant in Eastern Oregon

AP – Portland Utility Suspends Effort on New Natural Gas Plants

Portland Business Journal  – Analysis: How an assault on natural gas upended PGE’s power plan

East Oregonian – Backlash against Carty gas plant in Boardman continues

The Oregonian – Ratepayers and activists insist PGE reject natural gas

Portland and Multnomah County Pass 100% Renewable Energy Resolutions

June 12, 2017

Last Wednesday, June 1st, on the same day that Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the Portland, OR, City Council and Multnomah County Commission committed to a just transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2035, and to meet all energy needs, including transportation, heating and cooling, and electricity, with 100% renewable energy by 2050. Both of these resolutions were adopted by unanimous votes of those present. (Councilor Amanda Fritz was absent from the Portland City Council meeting.)




This is a very big deal! These 2 landmark 100% Renewable Energy Resolutions are among the strongest resolutions of their kind in the nation.













At the bottom of this post there is a list of articles about the resolutions which will help you understand how important they are.


Before the hearing there was a rally with speakers, among them, Beyond Coal Organizer Laura Stevens, pictured here. Photo Credit Colin McClean


Both floors of the Portland City Council Chamber were filled, requiring the city to open up an overflow room with over 200 people in attendance. Photo Credit Colin McClean

If you would like to read the resolutions that were adopted here are links to the Portland resolution and the Multnomah County [link coming soon] resolution.

We owe our success in getting these strong resolutions passed in large part due to the groundwork laid down during the work on the campaign to block Portland General Electric (PGE) from adding 2 new fracked gas powered plants to the Carty-Boardman site (read the blog post on that campaign ). That campaign was organized by first reaching out to partner groups and then developing a campaign plan based on inputs from all member groups. When it came time to develop a campaign plan for these 100% Renewable Energy Resolutions we repeated this process and added new partner groups.

This victory was made possible by the work of our amazing Sierra Club volunteers along with the work of hundreds of other dedicated volunteers from our allies.

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers who contributed to this effort by:

  • Talking to People About What is Important to you
  • Comment Card Collecting
  • Comment Card Processing
  • Phone Banking
  • Submitting Email Comments
  • Encouraging Your Circle of Contacts to Submit Email Comments
  • Calling Elected Officials
  • Making Banners and Public Hearing Props
  • Helping to Stage Rallies and Hearings
  • Planning and Attending Rallies
  • Planning, Testifying and Attending Hearings.

Individually, each of these actions does not seem like it’s accomplishing much.

But look what happens when you put them all together!

The next time someone asks you: “What can one person do to make a difference?” You can tell them:

Join the Sierra Club!
Activism Makes a Difference!

There is one more important point that needs to be understood. Getting these strong resolutions passed is not the end of this work, it is the beginning. We need to be a part of the process of implementing these resolutions in a way that is true to their intent. Strong implementation is critical to getting what we really want:

An Energy System Free From Fossil Fuels Closely coupled with: A Just Equitable Transition Where All Members of Society Have Their Voices Represented and Can Thrive

If you want to be a part of this important work, contact one of the following people:

Nakisha Nathan, Climate Justice Organizer, nakisha.nathan@sierraclub.org
Laura Stevens, Beyond Coal Organizer, laura.stevens@sierraclub.org
Gregory Monahan, Chair, Beyond Gas & Oil Team, gregory.monahan@oregon.sierraclub.org

Update on Proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery

June 11, 2017

The proposed Kalama Methanol Refinery has received approval for their Shoreline Substantial Development Permit from the Washington State Department of Ecology. This comes after environmental and social justice groups flooded Ecology with over 19.000 comments opposed to the refinery.


If built, this would be the largest methanol refinery in the world! It would refine fracked gas into methanol in Kalama, WA, and ship it to China to make plastics. This single project would consume more fracked gas than any sector of Washington’s economy. It would require new gas pipeline infrastructure, likely down the I-5 corridor in Washington bringing fracked gas down from Canada. Gas infrastructure carries a big risk of explosions.

The production, refinement and transportation of fracked (so called “natural”) gas leaks methane, a greenhouse gas over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This means that the climate impact of this project is HUGE.

We need Governor Inslee to come out against this project, and realize that natural gas is no bridge fuel to a clean energy future; instead it is a gang plank to a dirty fossil fuel future.

Governor Inslee recently championed a coalition of governors committed to climate action. Approval of this methanol refinery runs counter to his and Washington State’s climate commitments. His commitments to our climate will mean nothing unless he stands up against this refinery! Click here to send an email to Governor Inslee Urging him to come out against the proposed Kalama Refinery. 

The Sierra Club and other public interest organizations intend to appeal the Shoreline permit, and the project’s dreadfully inadequate Environmental Impact Statement, to the Washington Shorelines Hearings Board.

The same company, Northwest Innovation Works, that is trying to build this plant in Kalama has plans to build an identical plant across the Columbia at Port Westward in Clatskanie, OR. One more reason to stop this project from being built.

If you want to work to stop this dirty, dangerous project contact Cecile Gernez, Conservation Organizer, Sierra Club Washington State Chapter                               email: cecile.gernez@sierraclub.org

A huge step forward on the Elliott State Forest

May 18, 2017

Many breathed a sigh of relief on May 9th as the State Land Board voted to keep the Elliott State Forest open and accessible to all. While there’s still much work to be done to craft an inclusive solution that preserves this ecologically unique and historically special place that connects us to our past and future – the Land Board has taken a major step in the right direction by reversing their decision to sell the forest.


(Photo by Josh Laughlin, Cascadia Wildlands)

Located in the Southern Oregon Coast Range, the Elliott State Forest contains within its bounty over 82,000 acres of vital wildlife habitat and some of Oregon’s last remaining coastal old-growth. Approximately half of the forest is over a century old, and provides a home to threatened and endangered species, vital habitat to elk, black bear, northern spotted owls, and marbled murrelets. Among the ancestral homelands for Tribal Nations who have hunted, fished and lived among the region for many generations before the forest came into state ownership, this place has deep meaning – connecting communities to a rich past and vital future. It also contains some of the strongest wild salmon and steelhead runs left on the Oregon Coast, with biologists estimating that 22% of all wild Oregon coastal coho salmon originate in the Elliott.

The State Land Board – consisting of Governor Kate Brown, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and state Treasurer Tobias Read – had proposed the sale of the Elliott’s obligation to the state’s Common School Fund for $221 million. But the Land Board rejected that approach on May 9 and voted to keep the Elliott in state ownership. We are appreciate the work that Governor Brown and Treasurer Read did, but more work lies ahead to come up with a solution that engages all stakeholders equally in finding a solution for the Elliott.

The biggest unanswered question is whether the Oregon Legislature can come up with the $100 million in bonding proposed by Governor Brown to buy out the most sensitive areas of the forest from the Common School Fund obligation. In addition to using that money to end the state’s obligation to tear down forests to fund our schools, the Governor’s plan would establish a “Habitat Conservation Plan” for much of the rest of the land. This would allow some logging to occur while also protecting endangered and threatened species such as spotted owls and murrelets. Treasurer Read presented a complementary plan that would allow Oregon State University an option to buy the Elliott for the $121 million remaining if the $100 million in bonding can be found.

In addition to working diligently in the Legislature to try to assure that the securing adequate bonding money, the Oregon Chapter will also be working to pass Senate Bill 847, which would establish a Trust Land Transfer program. Such a program could help provide part of a solution to the Elliott by providing a mechanism by which money could be appropriated over time to purchase encumbered lands.Salmon Elliott

We are hopeful that all of these answers can be found and that we can indeed come up with a solution that results in a forest that is preserved for all of us – the hikers, hunters, anglers, bird watchers, and Oregon’s diverse communities. And importantly, the Sierra Club believes that the State must engage Tribes as sovereign equals in crafting this solution – recognizing and addressing the past seizure of their ancestral lands.

No one believes that any of this will be easy, but we now at least have reason to believe that we are headed in the right direction and for that we should all be thankful.