2015 Legislative Roundup: and now for some good news
July marked the end of the 2015 legislative session. For OEC, this was a year of long-awaited progress. The Oregon Legislature passed landmark legislation that will reduce pollution in the air we breathe and the toys we give our children.
This legislation is the result of years of advocacy, session after session, and speaks to Oregon Environmental Council’s founding purpose. Back in 1968, a group of ordinary citizens came together to form a collaborative voice in the state’s capitol. That voice was OEC, and we have lobbied in Salem ever since.
This year’s victories could not have happened without our members and supporters. Our progress represents many years of advocacy, thousands of your letters and calls, hundreds of coalition members and endorsers, all while battling back millions of dollars in paid opposition from the oil and chemical industries.
We did it together. Because, after all, it’s your Oregon.
What did we change?
Our air will be cleaner
Oregon has an air pollution problem. The exhaust that comes out of our cars and trucks not only accounts for nearly 40% of Oregon’s climate-changing pollution, it also creates smog and soot, causes cancer, and triggers asthma and heart attacks. By reauthorizing the Clean Fuels Program this session, the legislature put Oregon on the path of reducing climate pollution from transportation fuels by 10% over ten years and reducing toxic pollution in our air.
How much pollution will the Clean Fuels Program remove from our air? The program will guarantee 7 million metric tons of carbon pollution reduction, the equivalent to 37,500 rail cars of coal. The beauty of this program is that fuel replacements for gasoline and diesel are rated based on their total carbon emissions–from manufacture to end use–rewarding truly lower-carbon fuels like electricity, biogas, and biofuels made from waste grease and agricultural waste over corn ethanol. These fuels also emit far less air pollution.
Not only will the program clean our air, it will also be easier on our pocketbooks. Economic analysis shows the program could save Oregonians up to $1.6 billion in fuel costs, while supporting local clean fuels entrepreneurs who are working with new technologies like methane capture and waste-stream biogas. Jobs and investments are already flowing in Oregon because of this law: SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel recently announced a 20% expansion of its production capacity.
Our children will be healthier
The Toxic Free Kids Act is also a game changer. For years, there has been no way to know when, how or in what amounts children are exposed to toxics from their toys, baby blankets, lotions and shampoos. Parents have had no way of knowing which products contain harmful carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and other chemicals of concern, and neither have doctors, public health officials, or even the retailers that sell these products.
The Toxic Free Kids Act changes all of that. This simple, but extraordinary, law directs manufacturers to disclose the information we need to protect children’s health: Oregon’s health officials will now be able to track which hazardous “ingredients” are found in children’s products. Most importantly, the law requires that the worst offenders will be replaced with safer alternatives.
Health professionals, toy stores, manufacturers, parents and legislators never gave up on this seemingly “easy win.” Despite the massive popularity of this measure—who doesn’t want to protect children from dangerous chemicals!—it took years to overcome industry pressure from chemical companies and ensure that children’s products sold in Oregon will be toxic-free.
Seeds and Starts
Every major success starts with planting a seed, whether funding a study, bringing together experts in a work group, or simply gathering the community to discuss an issue. Nurturing that seed takes time. Here are some of the seeds (and starts) we helped nurture this year.
Capping climate pollution: Every day in Oregon polluters put waste into our air and environment with no cost to their bottom line. This year, OEC supported the “Climate Stability and Justice Act” to limit climate pollution and create an enforceable timeline to meet our climate protection goals. With the entire climate community behind it, this critical bill passed through two committees and was considered in another. For OEC, this is the start to a necessary change for our future: Oregon must cap climate pollution and account for its true cost in our lives.
Sustainable transportation: OEC has always and will continue to push for a more sustainable transportation future that works for people, the economy and the environment—one with more transportation choices and better community design. As we push for a comprehensive transportation package, we’ll keep the focus on ensuring greater investments in transit, especially to help our youth and elders meet their transportation needs.
Safe drinking water: Nearly 70% of Oregonians rely to some extent on groundwater for their drinking water, yet in many parts of the state, this water is polluted. OEC laid the groundwork for safe drinking water in 2015 and we will continue our efforts to make sure that Oregonians who drink well water are protected from
Cleaner diesel engines: Although legislation to reduce unhealthy diesel exhaust—by retrofitting and replacing older engines on construction equipment and big rigs—did not pass, OEC will participate in a work group during the interim and educate Oregonians about the serious health problems and equity implications associated with diesel pollution.
That’s Not All!
- OEC was pleased to support additional wins for the environment:
- $14 million for Oregon State University’s Statewide Public Service Programs, the state’s main resource for sharing best practices with farmers across the state, helping reduce pesticide use and fertilizer runoff
- $70,000 for fertilizer research to help reduce runoff into our rivers, lakes and streams
- Continued funding for Amtrak Cascades, which curbs air and climate pollution and relieves congestion on I-5
- $45 million for Connect Oregon, the major source of funding for non-roadway transportation in Oregon
- Research into ocean acidification and the effects of a changing climate on our fishing industry
- Establishment of a state Outdoor Education Fund
- A study to encourage transition to cleaner burning woodstoves and other cleaner home heating options