Register-Guard guest opinion by Shawn Donnille
When Gov. Kate Brown took office, she promised the most open, transparent and responsive administration possible. She would do away with back-room deals cut with special-interest lobbyists, she said, and instead would conduct business in the full light of day. One year later, the gap between Brown’s promises and her actions on environmental policy is as wide as the Willamette River.
In just 12 months, she has racked up a remarkably bad environmental record that has not only caught the attention of the environmental community, but the natural and organic products industry as well.
Soon after Brown took office, the state Department of Forestry joined with timber and chemical lobbyists to block a bill in the Oregon legislature intended to reform aerial spraying of pesticides by the logging industry.
Their actions meant that rural families continue to be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals, without adequate buffers to protect homes and schools, or even advance notice before sprays occur. In addition to imminent threats to rural communities, aerial spraying is now compromising organic farms throughout the state, thus crippling a thriving and sustainable industry.
During the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Brown also tried to cut a back-room deal with fossil fuel lobbyists to repeal Oregon’s landmark Clean Fuels law. This tactic was aimed at buying Republican votes for a transportation package, but her plan fizzled when pro-environment Democrats in the House of Representatives rebelled.
The 2015 session also saw Brown’s administration push ahead with plans to privatize the Elliott State Forest, the only state land in Oregon still containing significant old growth. Such a move would almost certainly result in this old growth being clear-cut, and the public being shut out of the process.
Earlier this year, Portland residents were stunned to learn of toxic contamination from glass manufacturing plants near residential neighborhoods.
Even more shocking was that the state Department of Environmental Quality and Brown’s administration knew about the problem for more than a year, but failed to act.
The governor has since called for soil testing and more money from the federal government, but she has not addressed the cozy relationship between her agency and polluting industries.
Her inaction isn’t limited to Portland. Despite repeated warnings, Brown’s administration failed to act on much-needed improvements to Oregon’s weak and outdated Forest Practices Act. On March 11, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, fed up with excuses, froze $1.5 million in federal funding to Oregon over Brown’s failure to protect clean water and salmon from rampant clear-cutting.
During the 2016 legislative session, Oregon’s tiny population of endangered gray wolves was also in the governor’s crosshairs. Her staff partnered with livestock industry lobbyists to craft a bill to circumvent the Oregon Endangered Species Act, and to block Oregon citizens from challenging a state Department of Fish and Wildlife decision to remove conservation safeguards from wolves.
While some environmental gains have been made over the past year, including important legislation to address climate change, those measures came because of the threat of a citizens’ ballot initiative.
It should not take the threat of a citizens’ referendum to force Brown and the Legislature to protect our air, water and wildlife; these values should be safeguarded by the head of our state.
Her arrangements made with lobbyists who work against wilderness and wildlife, or schemes to protect polluters rather than public health, don’t fit the kind of open and transparent administration Brown promised our state.
My business, Mountain Rose Herbs, employs more than 200 people in Lane County. We relocated to Oregon more than a decade ago because we wanted to live in a place with protected wildlands, healthy rivers and abundant wildlife.
Oregon’s reputation as an environmental leader has been an important part of our success, from attracting world-class employees to maintaining the trust of our hundreds of thousands of customers around the world. Our governor is putting that reputation at risk.
Gov. Brown is now running for re-election, and she does not have a serious challenger in the Democratic primary.
This is unfortunate, because I feel that would keep her honest to our ecological heritage as Oregonians and would remind her of the importance we place upon the health of our communities and the health of our living landscape.
Shawn Donnille is vice president and co-owner of Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene.