Paige Spence spread a few sheets of paper across her desk at the Oregon Conservation Network, listing out her organization’s goals for the recently adjourned 2017 legislature.
She made a mark for everything that passed, and drew an “X” by everything that didn’t. The first page has losses, but also a few wins. The next one doesn’t.
“Yeah, here’s where the X’s come in,” Spence said. “I think there’s a lot of real disappointments on this page.”
Environmentalists lost on a bill to put a price on carbon pollution. They lost on clean-air funding.
Amid efforts to pass revenue and transportation packages, many environmental bills fell by the wayside. That leaves Oregon still trailing its neighbors on several environmental issues, and it leaves natural resource agencies still underfunded.
Environmentalists had one really good win this legislative session, said Angela Crowley-Koch of the Oregon Environmental Council — the transportation package. It includes $100 million per year to expand transit and rebates for electric vehicles.
“It was pretty great actually. We got everything we asked for,” she said. “Unfortunately, we lost on everything else.”
Environmentalists did claim some other victories, such as bonds to help keep the Elliott State Forest public and limits on suction dredge mining. Environmentalists also cheered the defeat of several bills they said were designed to weaken the state’s land use laws.
But, Oregon’s rules on many environmental issues remain weaker than those of neighboring Washington and California.
“It is very frustrating to watch our neighbors get ahead,” Crowley-Koch said. “On the other hand, the positive of that is we can learn from our neighbors, learn from their lessons both good and bad, but after awhile you need to act.”
This session included bills to close many of those gaps. They nearly all died. And a lot of them died, at least in part, because of that transportation package.
“It really gave a lot more clout to industry than they otherwise would have because legislators wanted to keep them at the table,” said Michael Dembrow, D-Portland.
Dembrow said that bargaining made it more difficult to pass bills that otherwise had an edge by just one or two votes.
“I think to some extent that was the story of this session,” Dembrow said.
Dembrow introduced a bill that would phase-out old, dirty diesel engines, using funding the state received in a settlement with Volkswagen.
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