Fighting for Environmental Progress, Protecting Our Wins

Most of us assume that once a bill has been signed into law, the victory has been achieved and the hard work is done.

So what happens after a proposed program becomes law? Do we check the item off our list and move on to the next? At Oregon Environmental Council, the answer is no. Our work continues behind the scenes — and sometimes, that’s the toughest work of all.

Take the Clean Fuels Standard as an example. The Standard, which requires oil companies to gradually reduce carbon pollution from their gasoline and diesel fuel by 10% over ten years, went into effect at the start of this year. But the 2015 legislative session wasn’t when the law was originally proposed; Oregon Environmental Council worked diligently to pass the law in 2009, then get the sunset on the program lifted so it could go into effect, for nearly six years. Hooray! It’s law now, so surely we can move on?

Not so fast.

Particularly when up against well-financed industries like out-of-state oil companies (and what more well-financed industry is there?), we must remain diligent in protecting our legislative victories. The oil industry has been relentless in its drive to undermine and repeal Clean Fuels–attempting legislative repeals, bringing lawsuits against the state, and even filing ballot measures. They are desperate to maintain their oil monopoly, and the better Clean Fuels works, the more it affirms that an alternative fuels market is good for our economy, consumer choice, and public health.

The oil industry has spent nearly $8 million so far trying to influence lawmakers and the public on this issue. They work not necessarily to sway the public to their side, but to instill enough confusion and doubt so that the public won’t feel confident in supporting it. They even create “astroturf” groups (fake grassroots groups) to convey that false idea that vast swaths of Oregonians don’t support Clean Fuels.

Yet Oregonians clearly want this program. Recent polling revealed strong support for the Standard, with more than seven in ten who support Clean Fuels. 

The oil industry has plenty of money to try and out-fund movements like ours. But our strength comes in being able to out-people them. Despite their continued efforts to undermine this strong piece of legislation at every turn, their efforts failed in the legislature, and they failed at the ballot.

Aside from the oil industry’s public work to repeal Clean Fuels, they work on weakening it too. One of the most important behind-the-scenes things we do at Oregon Environmental Council is attend and participate in rulemaking meetings for the laws we champion. Rulemaking is what determines how strong the law actually is — whether companies will be legally required to comply with a given program, whether that means phasing toxic chemicals out of children’s toys, or blending in lower-carbon biofuels or investing directly in clean fuels.

When it comes to Clean Fuels, our Climate Program Director and policy expert, Jana Gastellum, has attended all Clean Fuels rulemaking meetings — entire days spent in a room working with other stakeholders, analyzing regulation, providing technical comments — to ensure that Clean Fuels remains a strong, significant law that reduces pollution and maximizes benefits for our communities. This part of our work is not glamorous, but it’s extremely important.

Long past the time that the celebration emails have gone out, and the social media posts thanking our legislators, Oregon Environmental Council is still working day-in and day-out behind the scenes to monitor, defend and protect the key pieces of legislation we fought for together. We coordinate with clean fuel businesses trying to do the right thing. We monitor the little details and let you know when there’s an opportunity to weigh in. We may be most visible in these efforts during the legislative session, but we’re always working to protect the health of every Oregonian and the place we call home.

That’s why your support is so important. We can’t do this without you. From the Bottle Bill to Clean Fuels and the Toxic Free Kids Act, we’ve made substantial strides in protecting Oregon’s air, water and climate, and we’re keeping Oregon a healthy place for kids to grow up. Become a member today for as little as $5 a month, and your donation will ensure that we can keep up the fight, long after the news cameras have moved on.

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