Education, health care, a woman’s right to choose — much is at stake in the upcoming gubernatorial election.
And in the wake of recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that we’re almost out of time when it comes to climate change, the environment is literally a hot issue.
The IPCC warns that unless we make dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, our future will be rapidly rising temperatures, droughts and rising sea levels.
In Oregon, the state Legislature has been trying for years to address climate change, and the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, which has shown up in a number of incarnations, will be on the table again in the 2019 session. Oregon, with other Western states, developed a framework for a carbon pricing program back in 2007 and various cap and trade type programs have shown up in the Legislature ever since.
Environmentalists are worried that if Kate Brown is beaten in the governor’s race by Republican challenger Knute Buehler, efforts to fight climate change at a state level in Oregon will be doomed.
“We are reframing the Clean Energy Jobs legislation to really focus on carbon reduction and the reason why I am choosing this strategy is we see from cap and invest that you can get carbon reduction at the lowest cost to businesses,” Brown says.
Eugene Weekly spoke to Brown about her environmental record and her green goals for Oregon. With a background studying environmental law, Brown can discourse broadly on climate change or delve into the minutiae of forest health.
The governor has been following the Our Children’s Trust Youth climate case slated to go to court Oct. 29 — but is currently being held up by the Supreme Court.
Brown says: “I think back to our first woman [Oregon] Supreme Court justice Betty Roberts, who fought discrimination against women in the courtroom but also fought it at the Capitol. I applaud the efforts of these young people to protect their right to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”
Gov. Brown continues: “This battle is too important to not just take to the Capitol, but to the courtrooms as well. Justice and our environment deserve nothing less.”
Save the Forest
When it comes to Brown’s environmental record, Doug Moore of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV) points to her work to save the Elliott State Forest. In 2017, the 82,500-acre Coast Range forest, home to old growth trees and the threatened marbled murrelet sea bird, was nearly sold to a timber company.
“Kate Brown was the reason it was not sold that day,” Moore says.
The Elliott was designated Common School Fund land in the 1800s, and Brown’s plan involved using $100 million in taxpayer-funded bonds to finally decouple the Elliott from the Common School Fund and end the forest’s obligation to earn money for schools.
Brown also points to the Elliott as one of the key issues she’s worked on. “When we had an opportunity to keep that forest in public lands; I fought tooth and nail to make that happen.” She says her understanding is that Buehler opposed the financing mechanism that made that happen. “If he were to get on the Land Board, the Republicans would have a majority.”
Among its duties, the State Land Board manages state-owned lands and assets in the Common School Fund. As such, it oversees state forests such as the Elliott. The board is made up of the governor, treasurer and secretary of state. Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is a Republican, and while Treasurer Tobias Read is Democrat, he was originally in favor of selling off the Elliott.
Discussion regarding the future of the Elliott State Forest will continue at the State Land Board’s Dec. 18 meeting. At its most recent meeting, the board asked that potential public owners, including Oregon State University, indicate their interest to the board and come before it in December.
“Oregon has a very strong legacy of protecting the environment,” Brown says. “I am the only candidate in this race who has a proven track record on this issue.”
That, she says, is particularly important with the Trump administration in power.
‘F’ Means Failure
EW reached out to Rep. Buehler’s campaign in September and was told he did not have time to speak about his stance on the environment before our deadline.
EW pushed the deadline back and contacted Buehler’s spokesperson, Monica Wroblewski, several more times, but she did not respond to repeated requests for an interview with Buehler.
“I think it’s really interesting my opponent is saying he’s an environmentalist. OLCV has given him a ranking of an ‘F,’” Brown says. “That means failure. That’s not a ‘C,’ not a ‘D.’”
Of Buehler’s “F,” Moore of OLCV says that, as a legislator, Buehler only votes positively on the environment “if it’s an easy vote and will pass anyway.” He adds, “Look who is supporting him — corporate polluters across the board.”
Nike’s Phil Knight has given Buehler’s campaign $2.5 million. Recently, Seneca Jones, The Pape Group and Roseburg Forest Products have each made $100,000 donations to the Republican candidate.
This month, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters political action committee received a $250,000 contribution from its national affiliate, and back in in September the League of Conservation Voters gave OLCV $95,000.
If elected, Moore predicts Buehler will cut down trees, roll back land use laws and ignore climate change.
He says he gives Buehler cred for voting for coal-to-clean legislation, “which doubled our renewable energy standard and unhooked us from coal power.” But Moore says that Brown, whom OLCV named 2017’s “environmental champion of the year,” was instrumental in shaping the policy and passing the legislation.
“It’s impossible to understand how important she’s been for the environmental community as governor,” he says.
Moore is willing to admit that Brown is not perfect on the environment. “There’s no public official that’s going to be perfect on every issue,” he says. “Are there ways she could be better? That’s our job to join in, and to say that, and ask her to be better.”
But Brown is thoughtful, he says, noting that she’s willing to look at all sides of the issue and have a conversation to explain her reasoning. And, he says, there are some things the governor can’t control, such as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s tendency to issue kill orders on wolves “quickly, without a good process. She doesn’t directly control that.”
Speaking to EW over the phone, Brown says she takes a three-pronged approach in moving Oregon forward in the environmental arena. First is tackling global climate change and reducing reliance on carbon fuels — bills such as coal to clean and her support of Clean Energy Jobs reflect that.
The second piece, she says, is making sure Oregon is resilient and prepared in the face of the changing climate. This, she says, can be as simple as making the connection between toxic air emissions and public health.
The third piece is “preserving Oregon’s legacy of beauty and bounty.”
Brown points to Oregon’s groundbreaking policies with the beach bill and in land-use planning. For the environment to be appreciated, she also points to a need for removing barriers for people who don’t have the opportunity to experience the outdoors.
For the past several years, the “governor’s campout,” an ongoing program with Oregon Parks and Recreation and other organizations, has hosted families who have not been exposed to camping and the outdoors. The goal, Brown says, is to “remove barriers and open pathways for folks to spend time in Oregon’s outdoors.”
While the successful battle over the Elliott State Forest is probably the most dramatic example of Brown’s work on the environment, the governor can also emphasize that 2016 coal-to-clean legislation, which set a timeline for eliminating coal-fired electricity in Oregon.
That bill also established new requirements on how much energy comes from renewable sources.
The year before, Brown signed a bill implementing Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program, setting standards that require fuel importers and producers to reduce the carbon intensity of gasoline and diesel yearly until 2025.
The most Buehler can really offer on the environment is that he has said he endorses the scientific consensus on climate change. And despite getting an “F” from OLCV with a lifetime voting score of 43 percent, his record is still better than most Oregon Republicans.
“He’s unwilling to fight climate change,” Moore says. “It’s an insult to environmentalists and to the people of Oregon.”
Buehler’s stance on Clean Energy Jobs, the current climate-change-fighting bill, is unclear. The Democratic Party of Oregon pointed out last year that Buehler opposed the proposed legislation in an op-ed in The Oregonian, but he told a Portland radio station earlier in the year that he was in favor of a carbon tax.
Wroblewski did respond to EW for a previous story on Buehler’s stance on Clean Energy Jobs, by saying in an email that The Oregonian op-ed reflected Buehler’s views on the bill.
Moore says, “If he came out the way he claims to, if he cared about climate change, all he had to do was put his name on the bill and make it bipartisan.”
Meanwhile, Brown on Oct. 3 fought back against the Trump administration’s attacks on the environment.
After the IPCC announced that as soon as 2030 the planet will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — increasing the risk for extreme drought, wildfires, floods and food shortages —Trump has made statements indicating he’s unclear on climate change. He’s admitted on CBS’s 60 Minutes that climate change is not a hoax, but also said he believes that it may not be “man-made” and that it goes “back and forth.”
Gov. Brown announced the Oregon Environmental Protection Act, “legislation that adopts the standards of the federal Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act into state law,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“The legislation ensures the federal environmental standards of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that were in place and effective as of January 19, 2017, before President Trump took office, shall remain in effect and be enforceable under state law even if the federal government rolls the standards back,” the statement says.
“Oregonians have witnessed unprecedented and aggressive attack on clean air standards, clean water standards, and federal efforts to fight climate change,” Brown says in the statement. She called for colleagues across the country to take similar action.
The environmental bill will come up for discussion in the 2019 Legislature, after this November’s election.
And she fought back again, Oct. 15, when she announced her plans to sign an executive order permanently banning offshore drilling in Oregon in response to a Trump administration plan to dramatically expand drilling leases across 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf, including the entire West Coast. “I’m against it, so are Oregonians,” she told EW in an earlier interview when asked about offshore drilling. “It doesn’t make sense financially. It doesn’t make sense environmentally.”
The Nov. 6 election will determine where voters stand on the environment. Moore says, “Getting anything meaningful done on the environment in the next four years requires Kate Brown in the governor’s office.”
Brown jokes, “I think your headline should be, ‘Brown Can Keep Oregon Green.”
An Environmental Revolution Through Starnes
Patrick Starnes, the Independent Party gubernatorial candidate, shows up at the Eugene Weekly office with a Roger Waters T-shirt. He’s not here to talk about The Wall, but the environment.
Starnes could be a spoiler in the 2018 general election, especially as polls show the race between former state Rep. Knute Buehler and Gov. Kate Brown is tightening. However, Starnes’ vision isn’t focused on specific policies. He says he wants to see a complete change.
He wants to consolidate separate environment-based departments into one: Department of Natural Resources. He also says he supports the idea of the Climate Energy Jobs Bill — but doesn’t want to commit to any bills he hasn’t seen yet.
If there is a carbon tax, he adds he’s “not afraid of carbon revenue” from the tax.
In a way, he’s already imagining how he’d spend that money because Oregon needs to spend more on public transit. With revenue from a carbon tax, he says he’d push for more free public transportation to encourage fewer cars on the road — cleaning up the congestion on I-5 and throughout cities. It would also help Marion County, where he says he’s met with senior citizens and people with disabilities who are impacted by the few public transportation options in a county with the second-largest city in Oregon.
When he’s talking with people in Oregon who don’t believe in human-caused climate change, he assures them that cleaner is better — and electric is more efficient.
Starnes isn’t much of a fan of internal combustion engines. He laments the death of the electric train in Oregon and how the freeways killed it. He adds that if we had spent that money in doubling the presence of trains, “We’d be like Europe.”
That’s why Starnes is big on an infrastructural revolution. For example, he tells EW that Israel’s electric freeways that can simultaneously charge cars while driving is something that Oregon needs.
“I want to start looking forward. If we leave fossil fuels, we’d need the infrastructure,” he says.
New infrastructure is what he’d want to see the government develop plans if he were in the governor’s seat.
“Teslas are great, but what about Oregon’s version?” he asks, suggesting that companies in the state should work toward developing an electric pickup truck.
— Henry Houston