This guest column originally appeared on the Oregon Wild website. It is reprinted here with permission from the author.
By Steve Pedery
Back in 2010, when Congress was debating the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the legislation had a problem. The things that were actually in the bill – slowing the inflation of health care costs, providing more access to health care, and ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions – were very popular with Americans. So the healthcare reform opponents attacked things that were never actually in the bill, like "death panels," and launched a massive media and P.R. campaign to pretend they were.
Those same corrupt, swamp-monster politics of Trump and Washington D.C. arrived in Oregon this session, most visibly in the death of HB 2020, the Clean Energy Jobs Act that was killed in the Oregon State Senate.
Most Oregonians want our state to act to address climate change. They want more investment in renewable energy and cleaner vehicles, and a transition to less pollution from industrial facilities. They also want Oregon's forests, rivers, and wildlife protected. Voters wanted these things badly enough that they voted for a Democratic "super majority" in the 2018 elections to achieve those aims.
Oregon Wild was not a major player in the debate over HB 2020. Our work focuses primarily on protecting and restoring public lands, forests, wildlife, and rivers. The campaigners behind HB 2020 made a strategic decision early on to exempt logging emissions from the bill. By doing this, they hoped to avoid the ire of "King Clearcut," i.e. the circle of logging barons, logging corporations, chemical industry lobbyists, and the Oregon Forest Industries Council (OFIC) that funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to Republican and Democratic politicians every year.
Getting on the wrong side of King Clearcut is viewed as the kiss of death in Salem politics, and by exempting logging emissions the bill's backers hoped to avoid being targeted by Oregon's powerful clearcut lobby.
But as the 2019 legislative session dragged on, this became increasingly difficult. First, some in the logging industry began demanding credit for the carbon being captured and stored by forests on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land recovering from the clearcutting epidemic of the 1980s and early 90s.
They also wanted credit for simply replanting forests on private lands they clearcut (which has been legally required in Oregon since the 1970s). Since the whole point of climate legislation is to improve things over the status quo, neither condition made any sense, particularly since King Clearcut refused to consider the giant carbon debt that occurs every time a forest is logged.
Others in the logging lobby tried to push fake science, claiming that forest fires were a bigger source of carbon than clearcutting (they are not); that 2 x 4s, construction materials, and paper products store more carbon that living forests (they don't); and that dense, 30-year-old industrial logging tree farm plantations store more carbon than 200+ year-old old-growth forest (they don't). The reality is that logging is Oregon's largest source of carbon emissions, dwarfing even wildfire, and that better logging practices like restoring old-growth, longer logging rotations, and fewer clearcuts is the biggest single step our state can take to address climate change.
To be fair, not all logging interests were pushing fake science and climate denial. Some quietly weighed in to support HB 2020, hoping to sell carbon credits to industrial polluters under the "cap and trade" program the bill would create. If landowners go to longer logging rotations, thinning instead of clearcutting, or agreements not to log at all, more carbon is stored. While this creates a potential offset for carbon emissions from industrial polluters, it doesn't do much to protect clean air or the health of residents living downwind from those facilities.
In the end, this didn't matter. As the session began to wind down, some of Oregon's wealthiest logging barons, led by Andrew Miller, funder of Bundy-believing politicians and a wide variety of right-wing causes, and Rob Freres, who Oregon Wild battled to protect Opal Creek from clearcutting in the 1990s, came out against the bill and began urging Republicans and anti-environmental Democrats to oppose it. In response, Sen. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) added his -113 amendment, which specifically barred Oregon landowners from selling carbon credits instead of logging.
It wasn't enough. Miller and Freres, the clearcut kings, launched a major P.R. and media campaign saying the bill would regulate logging (it wouldn't), that it would drive up fuel prices for loggers, farmers and truckers (a companion bill actually gave them new fuel subsidies), and that it would ruin rural economies (when economic studies said it would do the opposite). They told these lies to the media, their employees, and to legislators, and launched their #TimberUnity log truck rally in Salem to promote them. They weaponized misinformation and told rural Oregonians to boycott businesses that support climate action.
That the entire campaign was based on lies didn't seem to matter. Employees of logging companies were encouraged to come to Salem, and company owners sent their log trucks and tractors.
Television news ran images of diesel log trucks rolling through Salem and angry speakers decrying HB 2020 as a ban on logging, while largely ignoring the presence of Three Percenter (believers in the violent "sovereign citizen" movement) and white nationalists in the crowd. Some media outlets responded to criticism of inaccurate stories with bland, stenographical-justification statements of "we are just covering what they are saying."
Just as in 2010, when a P.R. campaign firmly established the idea that "death panels" were actually a thing in the Affordable Care Act, the #TimberUnity rally firmly established the idea that HB 2020 had provisions in it that restricted logging. The pressure worked, and after three anti-environment Democrats made it known they were siding with Oregon's runaway Republicans against the bill and action on climate change, it died.
So what is Oregon to learn from this mess? For one, it is high time that elected officials and environmental campaigners all recognize that the clearcut kings of Oregon, i.e. right-wing donors like Freres and Miller, have no interest in solving environmental problems. Men who argued in favor of clearcutting the ancient forests of Opal Creek and who fund the campaigns of anti-public lands, anti-immigrant, anti-worker politicians are not going to stay neutral on climate legislation, or any other major progressive campaign in Oregon.
Second, Oregon is literally being flooded with corporate political money, and that money is corrupting our state's politics – particularly on the environment. As the Oregonian's Polluted by Money series documented, our state has some of the weakest campaign finance rules in the nation, and politicians have thus far been unable to produce a plan that would effectively combat the corrupting influence of money in our politics.
Per capita, Oregon ranks first in the nation when it comes to campaign contributions from corporations, and first in contributions from the logging industry – doubling even the money the logging industry spends in Washington and California. That money buys access, power, and favors, all of which were on display when Republican senators abandoned their jobs in order to block a vote on climate legislation, and when three anti-environment Democrats joined them. Oregon desperately needs campaign finance reform to rein in the nearly unlimited money currently coming from polluting corporations.
Finally, Oregon has to get serious about addressing our weakest-in-the-west logging rules on state and private lands. Logging barons have made millions clearcutting our forests, leaving Oregonians, rural and urban alike, to foot the bill from mudslides and polluted drinking water, degraded salmon runs, and an ongoing endangered species crisis.
They have also exposed rural families to cancer-causing chemicals, and blocked important legislation to protect health and safety. Worse, state regulators can't even say with certainty if most logging operations are even meeting our existing weak rules.
Everyone in Oregon uses wood products, but they don't have to come from clearcuts. All of us, urban and rural alike, want a clean, healthy environment. We all value old-growth forests, salmon runs, and clean water. We want meaningful action to address climate change. After the death of HB 2020, it is clearer than ever that we cannot have those things unless all of us work to stand up to Oregon's clearcut kings, and the lies and misinformation they spread.
Steve Pedery serves as conservation director at Oregon Wild, and is an avid fly fisherman.
Banner graphic and Clatsop County logging animation courtesy of Oregon Wild.
Steve Pedery and Hood River County timber country photos by Tommy Hough.
Three Percenters photo by Tim Dickerson.
Spraying editorial cartoon © 2015 Jesse Springer.
A San Diego broadcast and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.