Playing Football with Lucy: Negotiating transportation funding and clean fuels

Playing Football with Lucy: Negotiating transportation funding and clean fuels

Governor Kate Brown signing the Clean Fuels bill in March

By Andrea Durbin of Portland, Oregon. Andrea is the executive director of Oregon Environmental Council.

Oregon’s pro-environment legislators made history this session. In one of the most significant environmental wins we’ve seen in Oregon since 2009, they stood up to multinational oil interests and passed legislation, signed by Governor Kate Brown, that secures a clean fuels future for Oregon.

Let’s take a moment to put this victory into context: the Clean Fuels Program reduces climate pollution, cleans up our air and encourages investment in our state – including an announcement of new jobs in Eugene just last week – creating prosperity right here in Oregon while breaking our dependence on oil. Oregon is the second state in the country to implement this law, but others, including Washington and Northeastern states, are already poised to follow our lead.

Oregon’s pro-environment legislators took this important vote in the face of over $2 million in lobbying and campaign expenditures by the oil industry in Oregon to stall, sidetrack and roll back this landmark program. The oil industry was helped every step of the way by its faithful sidekick, a paper I like to call the Oilgonian, which – despite claiming that climate change is not an issue worth discussing – has published over a dozen anti-climate legislation editorials and op-eds this year alone.

So why would the legislature consider rolling back its own hard-earned win?

Opponents of clean fuels say they can’t pass a transportation package if the state has a clean fuels program. If you believe that claim, Brian Williams has a story about a chopper to sell you. Here’s why:

  1. The Clean Fuels Program and the transportation package simply aren’t related. The only reason clean fuels is being connected to the transportation package is politics. The transportation package will repair our crumbling roads and bridges, support transit for the elderly and disabled, and make the streets safer for people who walk and bicycle. But the transportation package will not expand clean fuel choices for Oregonians. That’s what the Clean Fuels Program does: it provides diverse clean fuel choices to consumers across the state that reduce pollution while protecting us against uncertain and volatile oil prices, all without state spending.

  2. The proposed transportation package was developed by a wide variety of transportation stakeholders, including Oregon Environmental Council, from all across the state – including both supporters and opponents of Clean Fuels – who had full knowledge that Clean Fuels was a legislative priority and who knew the bill would most likely pass this legislative session. Why a minority of transportation stakeholders (all of whom have a lot to gain from better roads and bridges) would shoot themselves in the foot by pitting the transportation package against Clean Fuels is a mystery and cynical politics.

  3. The contingent of legislators opposed to Clean Fuels has already shouted from the rooftops that they won’t vote for a gas tax increase to fund the transportation package. Period. The end.

Let’s stop to think about that last one. If clean fuel’s champions bow to opponents’ demands now, but there still aren’t the votes for a gas tax increase, that means Oregon will have neither a transportation package nor a clean fuels program. Taking this leap of faith is like Charlie Brown taking another kick at a football that will never be there. Opponents have already taken their toys and gone home.

Clean Fuels is a landmark victory that is essential for giving Oregonians cleaner fuel options that will clean up our air and drive investment and jobs into our local economy. Now -- as we see the climate changing all around us in droughts and wildfires, acidifying oceans, and increased asthma rates -- is not the time to take a step backwards. Now is the time to look forward and lead.

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