Walking into our State Capitol on day one of the 2017 Legislative Session, we were optimistic the legislature would pass our 2017 Priorities for a Healthy Oregon. Thanks to significant campaigns in key districts, we had many new pro-environment champions and legislators. Together, we were ready to make progress on the environment, and we succeeded in protecting rivers from suction dredge mining and in saving the Elliott State Forest from a sale to Big Timber.
At the same time, Donald Trump was systematically decimating environmental regulations at the federal level. We asked our Oregon legislators to step up and resist. We asked them to lead on the environment and serve as an example for the rest of the country. They refused the call. Instead, far too many legislators succumbed to industry pressure, shelving critical efforts to move forward on climate and air quality. These issues are targets at the federal level, and crucial for public health and a healthy environment. Any legislator — regardless of party — who favored continuing to allow dirty diesel engines to poison our air and killing important climate change legislation is not an environmental leader.
This legislative session was always going to be tough — legislators were facing a $1.7 billion state budget deficit, which starkly limits the effectiveness of environmental programs in our state agencies. Revenue-raising measures, including a transportation package, held focus for most of the legislative session. This created a dynamic where anti-environment bills became trading chips for revenue votes.
Oregonians deserved better from their legislature. You’ll see in this scorecard that many legislators still have high scores — but that’s only part of the story. Key legislators refused to allow important bills to come up for a vote, or were willing to trade our environment away to advance other policies. For example, just days after Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Oregon Legislature didn’t respond by passing climate change legislation. Instead, they were moving in the wrong direction — holding hearings about rolling back the Clean Fuels Standard, one of Oregon’s climate programs.
Looking back on the session, we won some big wins for fish and wildlife and for conservation in our most precious forests, rivers, and streams. But at a time when the environment is facing rollbacks across the board at the federal level, we expect our legislature to resist, to lead, and to protect Oregon’s natural legacy. We must insist that our state leaders step up and show federal officials in Washington, D.C. that Oregon will lead in their absence. Tell your legislators their score matters, and that it’s time to step up.