OEC applauds legislators who prioritize constituents over corporate interests
Oregon Environmental Council (OEC) applauds the work of The Oregonian/OregonLive to shine light on the role that corporate campaign donors play in shaping environmental policy.
In our 50 years of advocacy for environmental policies and practices, our organization has witnessed the extraordinary pressure that can be exerted by corporate interests far beyond the hearing rooms and the floor of legislature. Businesses and corporations have the power and influence to be either great champions for Oregon’s health and environment, or intractable obstacles to creating positive change. In Oregon, many of these industry groups have chosen to be obstacles by working hard to prevent environmental protections from being adopted or dragging out the process over many years.
Of course, we’re also not implying that all corporate contribution lead to unethical votes by lawmakers. We applaud all lawmakers who vote in the best interest of their constituents instead of campaign donors. But when well-moneyed corporate interests use campaign donations as a tool to exert pressure on lawmakers, it creates an uneven playing field. As The Oregonian/OregonLive clearly documented, few of us can put money on the table in the way that corporate interests do.
Even in 1971, the work Oregon Environmental Council led on the state’s Bottle Bill faced powerful resistance from business. The proposal took a couple of years to adopt. Industry’s ability to slow and prevent environmental protection has only strengthened over time.
We have witnessed this with the chemical industry and toy manufacturers’ opposition to the 2015 Toxic Free Kids Act. After several years of hard work, Oregon established this important protection for children’s health. Four years later, these industry interests are still trying to water down this law as it goes through the rulemaking process. OEC’s work to fend off industry influence will continue through implementation.
We have also seen this with the out-of-state oil industry influence in Oregon. The Western States Petroleum Association has been channeling dollars in Oregon for years to slow down and roll back Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program – a law that reduces carbon, provides Oregonians with cleaner fuel options and cleans up our air by displacing oil with cleaner fuels. The oil industry is fighting the program with power, influence and dollars. Given that Oregon doesn’t produce any petroleum, their influence shouldn’t be a problem for Oregon lawmakers. But that is not the case.
In 2015, the oil industry was the single largest political campaign contributor in Oregon to fight clean fuels. Because Oregon is the second state in the country to adopt this law, they are doubling down to spread lies and raise doubt about this program in the minds of lawmakers. Even though this program was originally adopted in 2009, and re-affirmed and finally implemented in 2015, Big Oil is again working to convince lawmakers that the program should be phased out as Oregon adopts a cap-and-invest program, posing it as a choice rather than recognizing that we need many strategies to meet our critical climate pollution reduction goals. This is when we need Oregon lawmakers to stand up to Big Oil and say enough is enough.
The campaign contributions are well-documented. The influence of corporate interests leaves an indelible mark on our policies and guarantees that it takes us years and requires a massive effort to put in place environmental and health protections that should be ‘no-brainers’: cleaning up our air and water, protecting kids’ health and acting on climate. Thankfully we maintain a strong will and have the tenacity for campaigning for groundbreaking environmental policy. It makes a difference that we have vocal and active engagement from Oregonians—including innovative, forward-looking businesses—who value our environment and community health.
Oregon faces daunting environmental challenges. There is no doubt that corporate campaign donations are a major obstacle to advancing fair and effective policy, and we applaud The Oregonian/OregonLive for its efforts to daylight the practice and seek a better way forward. We must ensure that Oregonians have an opportunity to advance meaningful protections for Oregon on a level playing field.