Do What You Can Do 1/30/2020

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Senator Jeff Golden

 *  “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”                    
—Helen Keller

Welcome to the Special Session Eve edition of Do What You Can Do.

This coming Monday morning Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek will bang their gavels to open the 2020 regular session of the Oregon Legislative Assembly. By law it has to adjourn no later than Sunday, March 8.  A lot of the available time and energy will go into considering the long list of “asks”—requests, halfway through the 2019-2021 biennium, for special appropriations from the unspent balance of the state’s General Fund. So how many of the looming issues will we have time to tackle? No way of telling, but I want you to know what’s on my plate as we return to Salem, and to share with you a major development in the ongoing saga of the proposed Jordan Cove/Pacific Connector gas pipeline.

Sunrise on the Oregon Coast

Sunrise on the coast. A new day, a new session. Photo courtesy of ODOT.

What's Up

Campaign Finance Reform

The Oregonian opinion page offered me space this week, and I used it to make this plain and straight case for the constitutional amendment we want Oregon voters to approve in November. But it’s not at all clear that the contribution limits bill that my Campaign Finance Committee introduced in mid-January will move anytime soon. I’ve known for a while that we wouldn’t have a CF committee in the short session; there really isn’t time and resources to do all the work piled up in other committees, and my bill can just as easily be heard by the Senate Rules Committee.

I was surprised, though, when I read that legislative leaders had said that a limits bill probably wouldn’t make the cut for this session. The Governor wants to let the people have their say first in November; if we collectively decide to empower state and local government to limit campaign financing, then we can decide what those limits can be. That’s a change in course from the end of the 2019 session, when the Senate decided not to act on a House limits bill that didn’t come close to what I think Oregonians expect from reform. At that time legislative leaders asked me to bring a limits bill to the 2020 session that we might be able to pass before the November vote. I did that, and will push for a hearing on it, because I think this conversation needs to begin in earnest. Chances are, though, that most legislators aren’t going to want to argue about the specifics until and unless voters approve the general proposition in November.

Senator Golden and Climate Activists

Senator Golden and SOCAN Volunteers advocating for climate action.


If you follow Oregon news you’ve noticed that the leading legislative story as we begin the 2020 session is the same one that overwhelmed the end of the 2019 session. Negotiations among legislative leaders and the Governor’s office have yielded SB 1530, a revised cap-and-trade bill that is:

  1. Unacceptably weaker—if you believe some of the strongest climate action activists—than last year’s ill-fated bill, especially in concessions to natural gas users.
  2. Mere window dressing, with no significant softening from last year’s bill—if you believe the public stance of Senate Republicans, who hint they might just walk out again to keep the Senate from doing business, or
  3. Almost surely, somewhere in between.

Bargaining on this bill will likely continue right up to Monday’s opening gavel. The challenge for those of us who supported last year’s bill is to agree on a line that we won’t cross, and to resist the dangerous premise that passing virtually any climate bill is better than passing no bill at all. I have more thoughts on all this, but with the bill still in flux, I’ll save them for later.  

And when it comes to our District’s leading climate-related issue:

Jordan Cove

Some of you recently asked about Jordan Cove’s application to build their Pacific Connector Pipeline, which only seems as if it’s hung over our heads forever (the first application was filed in 2007). This week brought first big development in quite a while.

A little background. The normal licensing process would require Pembina, Jordan Cove’s parent corporation, to earn permits from several state agencies as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The FERC permit is commonly considered the biggest deal in the mix—and, in one of the only decisions of its kind, FERC actually rejected the project application in 2016. After taking office, President Trump—a vocal Jordan Cove supporter— appointed new FERC Commissioners. Pembina submitted a brand-new application, and FERC is expected to announce a new ruling in February. Most observers expect them to find in Jordan Cove’s favor.

FERC Headquarters

Photo courtesy of the Small Business Administration.

The project’s path down Oregon’s regulatory path has been rougher. Last May the Oregon DEQ rejected Jordan Cove’s Water Quality Certification permit, saying that Pembina hadn’t provided nearly enough information and inviting them to apply again. They didn’t do that. The other main hurdle in Oregon is permits from the Department of State Lands (DSL) to dredge a channel for big tanker ships in Coos Bay, and to install the 36” pipeline across and under some 500 waterways along its 229-mile route. The hearing on that permit brought thousands of people to the Jackson County Fairgrounds (with similar turnouts elsewhere) just over a year ago to oppose the project.

All this wasn’t following Pembina’s script. They made five separate requests for DSL to slow down the process. Just before the expected decision date last September, DSL granted Pembina a delay until January 31—this Friday—to add more information to their application. Pembina submitted nothing more in those four months. Instead they recently asked for yet another delay, this time until March 31. If they could get that delay, the DSL decision would come after FERC, now reshaped by President Trump, announces its decision.

On January 21, DSL Director Vicki Walker rejected Pembina’s delay request, signaling that she’d announce the decision on the permits as scheduled on January 31. She deserves credit for standing up to what must have been enormous pressure, and Rep. Pam Marsh and I said as much in a public letter that was also an opportunity to shine light on Pembina’s strategy. At almost the same moment, Pembina dropped a bombshell in the form of a letter to DSL, unconditionally withdrawing their more than 2-yr-old application for permits needed to build the project.

Senator Golden and Representative Marsh Testifying

Senator Golden and Representative Marsh.

Or are they needed? We may be on the verge of an historic showdown to find out. Pembina has apparently realized it can’t come close to meeting Oregon’s environmental safeguards and is putting all its chips on federal approval. They’d then ask the courts to wade through the complex laws on pre-emption to rule that their FERC license overrides anything that Oregon agencies decide. While that strategy, according to early expert opinion, is a long shot, it looks like the only shot left for Pembina.

Expect to hear plenty of speculation around all of this in coming weeks. What’s safe to say is that Pembina’s abandonment of this key permit application is not the end of the Jordan Cove story.

Fire Along I-5 Near Canyonville in 2014

A 2014 fire along I-5 near Canyonville. Photo courtesy of ODOT.


My Senate Wildfire Committee will hit the ground running on the first day of the session, February 3. The tough questions will revolve around when and where wildfires should be allowed to burn, increased regulations on building in high-risk areas, practical ways to relieve the worst smoke episodes in our communities, allocating costs for preventing and fighting fires that cross private, state and federal ownership boundaries, and finding the billions of dollars needed over the next 20-30 years to turn the tide. I’ll report as these debates unfold.

Kid Time Logo

Kid Time

Up top I made mention of the “asks” for money that will claim much of the short session’s attention. Rep. Pam Marsh and I are teaming up with other Rogue Valley leaders to ask the state to pick up $2 Million of the total $9.5 Million cost of the remarkable new Kid Time project, soon going up in and around the old Carnegie Library in the park across from the Jackson County Courthouse and Medford City Hall.  It’s...well, let them tell you, here.

Thanks for your encouragement and ongoing interest. Keep doing what you can do. 


Senator Jeff Golden
Chair, Campaign Finance Committee 
Senate District 3 (Rogue Valley)

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