Rare political form: Everyone agrees coal is bad for Oregon

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

In what has become all too rare in modern politics, Oregon just came to a major agreement, not with a long drawn-out political fight but a calmly discussed deal. A coalition of clean energy advocates and community groups reached an accord with Oregon’s largest utilities to end coal use in the state and transition to 50% renewable energy by 2040, avoiding a potential long and expensive ballot measure fight. While everyone involved has found some common ground on this agreement, things aren’t quite finished. A bill is now headed to the legislature to try and pass through the short session, a somewhat rare feat. With a little over a month, legislators can usually only muster agreements on small items like housekeeping and budgeting. Oregonians typically have to wait for odd years to get anything of consequence accomplished.

Beyond clean energy legislation, there are a rapidly accumulating number of crucial political fights brewing in our state. Minimum wage ballots are set to be filed, tax reform continues to be a long held hope to correct the state’s priorities and the oil industry has threatened to go to the ballot to try once again to weaken or repeal Clean Fuels. All of these battles look to be bloody heavyweight title fights set in either the 2016 ballot or the 2017 session.

But unlike these other efforts Oregon has a chance to take a major step forward in addressing pollution this session. Transitioning utilities towards clean energy has the potential to be a huge win for a state that’s been struggling to reduce its emissions and has had a history of lingering; costly legislative fights on energy policy.

No one will claim this bill completely solves Oregon’s troubles. Large industrial emitters and transportation remain major sources of health and climate exacerbating emissions. But this is an incredibly important step in the right direction and with an agreement already filed; lawmakers could take this as a gift-wrapped legislative victory in a year that ordinarily has few. With utility emissions adequately addressed, the state can turn their focus towards other sources of pollution (and the inevitable clash with oil lobbyists and greased legislators) without piling on opposition from utility companies.

Senators Edwards and Beyer plan to introduce just such a bill outlining a proposal for Oregon to finally put a price on pollution. This is the #1 way almost every expert you can think of tells us is necessary to level the playing field for alternatives to compete with fossil fuel companies, who get to pollute for free.

The list of “must pass” priorities continues to mount, for what must feel like an indiscernible fog of issues. With utilities, environment advocates and community groups all on the same page, legislators have a clear path forward for a big win and set the stage to fully address pollution in Oregon.

Here’s hoping Salem knows a good thing when it sees it.

guest column

connect with blueoregon