Oregon preps to finally curb pollution, here’s how the oil industry will fight it

By Nick Abraham of Portland, Oregon. Nick is the editor of Oil Check Northwest, a local research-focused energy and politics watchdog.

Recently, State Senators Chris Edwards (D-Eugene) and Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) announced they would push legislation to price pollution in next year’s short session. The 35-day legislative assembly starts February 1st and Senator Edwards who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said they’d already begun writing legislation with congressional colleagues. While details of the bill are still coming out, there’s already a clear picture of what clean air advocates will be up against.

Last year’s battle over clean fuels legislation saw unprecedented opposition from the oil industry. For Oregon, it was one of our first glimpses into the enormous influence the industry can wield on a local level. Their tactics went far beyond traditional lobbying.

After the contentious legislative battle, the bill passed and congressional representatives were set to move on to other top priorities. The badly needed transportation package finally looked ready to pass. But some legislators were pressured by strong-arm oil lobbyist Paul Romain to attach a repeal of the clean fuels law to the bill, callously conflating the two unrelated issues. In the ensuing legislative battle Romain made his clients intentions clear when he told reporters that "Nobody was getting a transportation package," until clean fuels was repealed. This “scorched earth” mentality showcases the hubris the oil industry has show when it comes to Oregonians making their own decisions.

The rest of the story is history. With oil-backed legislators not willing to budge, transportation funding talks broke down, hoping to try again in 2017. Having slowed the legislature to a halt, industry groups filed a lawsuit (that was roundly dismissed) and are planning to drag the state through a 2016 ballot initiative fight to repeal clean fuels.

While this level of coordinated opposition is a relatively new phenomenon, fossil fuel companies have been seeding influence in Oregon for years. Despite having no refineries, no coal mines and only a single coal fired power plant in the state, they’ve still put millions into political donations and lobbying. Since 2009 oil, coal and gas related industries have poured just under $8 million into the state. This has bought them the services of the state’s most influential lobbyists and the support of more than a few legislators. With a complete lack of industry presence in the state, all this money and influence seems to be in an effort to gum up the state’s political process and delay Oregon’s transition to cleaner energy sources.

Over the last week, leaders from around the world (including Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Senator Jeff Merkley and representatives from the Governor’s office) met in Paris to discuss a global agreement on curbing pollution. As leaders return, the real work will begin. Bills like those being written by Senators Edwards and Beyer are an integral piece of the global puzzle to prevent the worse effects of pollution. The oil industry is well prepared to dig in their heels for as long as they can. But we’ve seen their local playbook and this time around Oregonians will be prepared to battle back the rhetoric and choose a better future for themselves.

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