Oil industry drops clean fuels ballot but preps for election season

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

At the end of March, the oil industry officially dropped their latest effort to repeal Oregon’s clean fuels standard. The Oregon Fuels Association, a group run by oil lobbyist Paul Romain, announced that it would no longer pursue a ballot initiative to repeal the state’s law to reduce transportation pollution.

This announcement came after months of threats by the industry to use every effort to sink the program. Numerous polls show the Oregonians overwhelming support for cleaner transportation fuels. It seems clear now that the oil industry didn’t see a path to victory by “going to the people”. This point can’t be emphasized enough – despite daunting resources and a room full of political consultants, the oil companies still saw state-wide support as too strong for a battle at the ballot.

A bit of history (that hopefully Oregon is not doomed to repeat)

The 2015 legislative fight over the transportation package is one many Oregonians would like to forget. Clean fuels legislation saw unprecedented opposition from the oil industry that caused a complete breakdown of the legislature.

After the legislature voted to fully authorize Clean Fuels, oil lobbyists and their legislative allies tried a less direct route to defeating the new clean air protection – holding the transportation funding package hostage; bizarrely conflating the two unrelated issues. Romain made the industry’s intentions clear when he told reporters that "Nobody was getting a transportation package," until clean fuels was repealed.

Romain, with fellow lobbyists Brian Doherty and Bob Russell, nearly succeeded in their strong-arm move; with legislators even admitting the oil lobby wrote part of the failed compromise transportation legislation to gut Clean Fuels. Negotiations broke down and the state has been without crucial funding for roads, bridges and crumbling infrastructure for another 2 years.

The Road Ahead

After losing in the legislature twice, pulling the plug on their ballot initiative and having a lawsuit last fall dismissed, most would believe all avenues had been exhausted. Yet Romain and his employers have said they’ll try again in next year’s session. "The stronger suit is working on a transportation package," Romain told The Oregonian. "To get us to cooperate, we need to have the low-carbon fuel standard fixed."

This could mean that the oil industry is simply not willing to give up, but their past history shows a different strategy. Over the last 3 elections, fossil fuel companies have put nearly $8 million into Oregon. The numbers for the first quarter of 2016 are still being finalized, but oil industry PACs have already put together tens of thousands of dollars in preparation for this year’s election. All signs point to a massive new influx of oil money into state elections.

Rather than listen to the public or realize a failed legislative strategy, the oil industry seems to be arranging a third option -- Buy a new legislature.

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