Do What You Can Do 2/19/20

View Online
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 Short Session Halftime Edition of Do What You Can Do.

First an invitation.  I hope you’ll join me as the Medford Branch of the American Association of University Women hosts my main Town Hall event for the short session:

Senator Golden Medford Mid-Session Town Hall Graphic

Saturday, February 22, 3:30-5:30 . Medford Main Branch Library

I’ll update you on this fast-moving session, and you’ll help me take back to Salem your perspective on the issues we’re dealing with.

What's Up

Climate Action

With the 2020 short session of the legislature now exactly at its midpoint, we really know nothing more about the Big Question—Will Republican legislators walk out again to prevent a vote on a Climate Bill?—than we did when we returned to Salem February 3. 

Last year’s legislation, HB 2020, is now SB 1530, and more than the bill number has changed. In response to some of last year’s concerns, manufacturing companies using the best and cleanest available emissions technology will get more benefits, and the fee that will affect gasoline and diesel prices will roll out in stages instead of beginning all at once. In the current bill, these fees will take effect in the 3-county Metropolitan Portland region in 2022, in Jackson County and the rest of western Oregon excluding Coos and Curry Counties in 2025, and in Coos and Curry Counties, Bend and Klamath Falls in 2028. It’s not clear when and if the rest of Eastern Oregon will be included. Areas exempt from the fee would not be eligible for hardly any of the revenue that would be generated from the auctions of pollution allowances.

Youth Climate Activist

A youth climate activist from a rally last week

These and other concessions are designed to build support for, or at least temper opposition to, the Climate Bill. Because they stayed within the sideboards of what we need to have a strong emissions-reduction program, I’ll readily support SB 1530. That’s not to say that it’s been easy to watch this process. It’s mostly been a succession of compromises to meet concerns of Republican leaders. You wouldn’t guess that by reading their press releases, which keep hammering home how Democrats are cynically trying to trick the people with token tweaks to last year’s bill. We’ve actually heard some say that it’s worse than last session’s HB 2020. Another talking point is that this bill is too long and complicated to take up in the rush of a short session, and should be deferred to 2021. That would be easier to hear if it hadn’t already been debated and delayed for years, and hadn’t died last year solely because these same critics left the state expressly to prevent us from voting.

The last two weeks brought more hours of public testimony on the bill, pro and con. While it’s frustrating to hear false claims repeated again and again—the “many thousands of dollars” that the bill will cost Oregon families every year is a good example—it’s also moving to hear the authentic anxiety that brings many to the Capitol. Some had their lives disrupted by the timber downturn in ways that haven’t healed, and groups like Timber Unity are revving up their fears that it will happen again.  In our effort to counter negative misinformation about the bill, I think we sometimes miss what they’re trying to tell us. That’s why I wrote this column for last Sunday’s Mail Tribune.

Senator Golden and Representative Rayfield

Senator Golden and Representative Rayfield speaking on the need for campaign finance reform

Campaign Finance Reform

There’s too little time this session for the debate needed to set limits on campaign contributions for Oregon races. That will happen in the 2021 session, after Oregonians vote in November to approve—I hope—a constitutional amendment clarifying that the legislature, local governments and the people through the initiative process have the right to regulate campaign spending.

This session’s one campaign finance bill is HB 4124, which does two things. It delays any possible implementation of Measure 47, which Oregonians passed in 2006 to impose relatively strict limits on campaign donations. M47 never became law because of a series of legal challenges. Sometime in the coming months the Oregon Supreme Court could make a ruling that would put the M47 into effect. Some predict chaos if that happens, especially if we come back months later in the 2021 session with a new limits law that changes the system yet again. Their arguments are complex and extremely speculative.

I don’t support putting yet another obstacle in the way of Measure 47.  The system it would create isn’t perfect—even the measure’s authors, now 14 years after the fact, would admit that. But the message of blocking it would be something like “Even though we don’t have a specific campaign finance proposal for you yet, we’re going to block the one and only one that you all approved with your votes until we do.” I don’t think that’s how you build trust that we in Salem are serious about genuine campaign finance reform.

HB 4124 would also create a Task Force to bring a campaign finance limitations proposal back to the 2021 legislative session. While that could be helpful, I have concerns about the description of this group’s composition. It would tilt heavily towards current office-holders and groups that traditionally fund campaigns, i.e, people who have a direct interest in how this debate plays out that may well differ from Oregonians as a whole. We want this group to study best systems from around the country and focus on the question “What’s the very best, most empowering system we can imagine for the people of our state?”  A group dominated by people with a direct stake in the current system is more likely to be asking “If I can live with Provision X, can you live with Provision Y?” When it comes to devising the cleanest political system that we can in Oregon, we should shoot higher than that, at least at the outset.

I’ll be striving to revise the composition of the Task Force proposed in HB 4124.

Smokey Skies

Photo courtesy of ODOT


Last week my Senate Wildfire Reduction and Recovery Committee passed out four bills.

  • SB 1514, the “calendar year 2020 boots-on-the-ground” bill, authorizes $25 million for reducing wildfire fuels on up to fifteen high-risk sites, some in Southwest Oregon. It requires a report to the legislature on what this ground-testing discovered about some of the trickiest questions before us, including how state agencies work with local communities and the federal government (especially on how costs should be shared), the role of commercial timber sales in the mix, and what parts of the landscape should be left alone. While the cost of this bill has raised some eyebrows, I’d say the Ashland Tidings got it right in its Tuesday editorial, “Don’t trust luck to dodge smoky summers.”
  • SB 1515, the “wildfire workforce foundation” bill, aims to stretch the boundaries on funding the costly work ahead. It’s based on the interest that some socially-responsible corporations and private foundations have shown in providing career paths for young people, and the success of existing Conservation Corps-style programs in the woods that can lead people willing to work hard to rewarding career paths. This foundation would systematically solicit private donations to expand resources for fuel treatment work through the coming years.
ODF Worker with Chainsaw

Photo courtesy of ODF

  • SB 1516 would provide $9 million to the Oregon Department of Forestry to increase rapid-response firefighting capacity from planes and helicopters, and to make 35 seasonal firefighting positions full time, creating a team that would work in the off-season to help private property owners make their parcels more fire-resilient.
  • SB 1536 is the most sprawling of the bills, pulling together a number of recommendations from the Governor’s Wildfire Council into a single package. For the most part this bill would create the long-term structure needed for our new era of Wildfire: integrated roles for the key state and federal agencies, requirements of the utility companies, plans for scaling up fuels treatment across the state, an independent study to develop the fairest formula for allocating costs, designing better systems for emergency management and public health through severe smoke episodes.

This is a lot...particularly, some point out, for a short session. True. It’s also true that the summers of 2017 and 2018 gave an unmistakable preview of a future of summers that will be challenging at best. As with climate change, we don’t have the luxury to wait for more convenient or leisurely times to act.

Fire by the Milepost 97 Sign

Photo courtesy of ODOT

Fossil Fuel's Future

My last letter had a detailed update on the apparent strategy of Pembina, the corporation pressing to build the Jordan Cove gas pipeline. Having discovered that they can’t come close to meeting Oregon’s environmental protection standards, they seem to be putting all their chips on approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and counting on the courts to let that ruling nullify any permit denial they receive from state agencies.

Jordan Cove is the poster project for violation of the #1 Rule for getting out of dangerous holes: Stop digging. I’d like Oregon to follow that rule across the board, and to that end I teamed up with Representative Karin Power (D-Milwaukie) to introduce HB 4105.  This bill would prohibit the use of any state-owned land or assets to assist in the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure projects and apply stricter safety measures to current transportation of oil and gas. On February 11 I testified next to Rep. Power and our own Rep. Pam Marsh before the House Committee on Energy and Environment. That led to what you could call a lively exchange with committee members, especially Rep. David Brock Smith from the South Coast, who was displeased with what he saw as a veiled attack on the Jordan Cove project specifically.

I answered that I am a full-on unveiled opponent of Jordan Cove, which violates the Stop Digging Rule as clearly as a project can. I’ll oppose any project like it down the line.

This isn’t complicated. If you accept the imperative of shifting fossil fuel to non-carbon energy sources as rapidly as we possibly can—and it’s really hard at this point to accept anything else—then a ban on fossil-fuel infrastructure expansion is the bare minimum for responsible legislation. It responds to the plain fact that corporations have a fiduciary duty to secure an adequate return on investment for their shareholders. That means that even if they recognize the need for the energy transition, they have to get as much value as possible from their capital assets before they strand them. The more unrealized return a corporation has on their fossil fuel assets—pipelines, wells, processing plants—the more it’s fiduciarily obliged to fight strong measures to deal with climate change.

That’s an unavoidable reality for capital assets already in operation. But to make the challenge even worse by licensing new projects that force fossil-fuel companies into even more opposition to crucial climate action programs—that’s just foolish.

HB 4105 didn’t move out of committee and won’t become law this year. But we met our short-session goals: to get this conversation going too loudly to be ignored, and to start gathering support from around the state. And to that point, thanks to several of you in District 3 who came to Salem to testify or sent in strong letters of support. It’s an excellent start, and we’ll build on it going forward.

Senator Golden speaks at a rally opposing the Jordan Cove Project

Thanks for your ongoing interest. Hope to see you at Saturday’s Town Hall.


Senator Jeff Golden
Chair, Wildfire Reduction and Recovery Committee 
Senate District 3 (Rogue Valley)

If you find this newsletter interesting or useful, I hope you’ll forward it to friends and invite them to subscribe. Anyone can sign up here,

We will not share contact information with anyone else for any reason.

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1703
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, S-421, Salem, OR, 97301
Podcast: Capitolizing