2013 Legislative Wrap: The Dirt on Oregon’s Environment

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This is part of our 2013 Legislative Wrap series, where we’re giving the rundown on what the Oregonian Legislature accomplished across a range of issues and “grading” them on their work. For more in this series, hit the jump.
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Unfortunately, there was some real heartache for OCN members.” — Oregon League of Conservation Voters

Earlier this year, Oregon League of Conservation Voters’ Christy Splitt appeared on our Inside Source web program to share insights into the environmental community’s goals to keep Oregon clean and healthy. As she discussed on the show, while a clean and healthy environment is a priority for all Oregonians, passing good policies to continue environmental protections can be a real challenge.

This paradox played out in full this legislative session. When it came to environmental priorities, Oregon had some great wins– but there were also some sizable misses, including a last-minute political move from mostly Republican Senators to put corporate profits before children’s health.

The Oregon Conservation network –  a coalition of more than 40 environmental groups around the state – identified four priority issues for 2013, including: removing the sunset on the Clean Fuels Program, making more appliances energy efficient, protecting Oregon rivers from suction dredge mining, and better funding for water monitoring and management through a user fee.

The Legislature successfully passed legislation to make appliances more energy efficient (SB 692) and to protect Oregon rivers from suction dredge mining (SB 838), but failed to lift the sunset on the Clean Fuels Program. The water management fee, which did not move forward, will be part of an interim work group on funding for the Water Resources Department instead.

If you’re keeping count, that means the OCN’s priority bills came in at two for four, or 50/50. But 50/50 success is not enough for Oregon’s environment. While the OCN’s legislative priorities were important issues, they were not overly ambitious or controversial.  As more and more evidence emerges about climate change; health effects from toxins, pollutants, and other byproducts; and a need for alternative energies, it would seem that Oregon – a vanguard in environmental protections – would seize opportunities to expand protections for Oregon’s environment and public health.

But pressure and politicking from Republican lawmakers in Oregon stymied the goals of Oregonians who care for the state’s environment and public health. Republican legislators kowtowed to corporate lobbyists who were more interested in corporate profit than environmental protections or consumer health. Despite bipartisan support in the House for the Toxics Disclosure for Healthy Kids Act (HB 3162), which would have required corporations to disclose the use of harmful toxins in children’s products, the Oregon Senate sent the bill back to committee on the last day of session. Republican Senators chose the chemical lobby over Oregonians’ health, and locked up in opposition to the bill.

Oregonians deserve more from their elected officials, when it comes to protecting our state’s natural resources and public health. Luckily, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters puts out a scorecard after each session so constituents know where their representatives and senators truly stand on environmental issues. After this Legislature’s environmental record, we suspect this scorecard will play an even more pivotal role for many Oregonians’ decisions in 2014.

GRADE: Cat in a Bath

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For more 2013 Legislative Wraps, check out:

Funding K-12 Schools
Higher Education: A Step in the Right Direction
Cutting Tax Loopholes
Economic Fairness
Senior Services and Health Care
Other Important Bills

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