Opposition Report: Attacks on Sustainability

What do The Oregonian, The Koch Brothers, and the Oregon GOP all have in common?

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Last month, Governor Kate Brown signed Oregon’s groundbreaking Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Act into law. The law, which requires the state’s largest utilities to stop using coal-generated electricity by 2030 and get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2040, is a big deal — it makes Oregon the first state in the nation to go coal-free by law.

But with great progress comes great obstinance, and that’s painfully obvious in the right’s response to Oregon’s historic sustainability legislation. Since it’s difficult to oppose sustainability on its merits, right-wing talking heads are taking a different tack by framing the law as a special interest backroom deal.

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Oregon’s self-described premier conservative political blog, The Oregon Catalyst, provided an excellent example of the GOP’s anti-clean energy talking points. Like the Senate Republicans, the Catalyst hammered home the idea that the law was just a way for environmental activists to “help their crony big power companies” at the expense of low-income families. Of course, that’s stretching the truth a bit — big power companies also benefit from non-clean energy, and for the GOP’s $190 figure to be accurate, the average Oregonian’s electricity bill would have to be $19,000 a year. Indeed, if anyone was “helping crony big power companies,” it was the Republicans: the Industrial Customers of the Northwest, who mounted vigorous opposition to the bill, was largely made up of big Republican donors like the Koch-owned Georgia Pacific.

A lie never stops a Republican’s talking points, though — just look at the similarities among what Senator Jeff Kruse, Senator Ted Ferrioli, and Secretary of State candidate Dennis Richardson had to say on the topic, with each conjuring up the image of corrupt big power companies benefiting from the bill.

As you might have noticed by now, these comments aren’t exactly new — we heard this rhetoric directly after the bill’s passage. So why does it matter now? Because The Oregonian just published an article perpetuating debunked climate change skepticism. With the urgency of finding solutions to climate issues, giving standing to anti-science conspiracy theories is unproductive at best and downright dangerous at worst.

It’s not a coincidence that The Oregonian uses the same talking points as the GOP: Both the paper and the party benefit when they can use the other as a spokesperson. The Oregonian gets to try to block progress without openly appearing biased — and in this case, they’re spreading anti-sustainability arguments without directly advocating for them. (It’s worth noting that the Oregonian Editorial Board is much more blatant in opposing sustainability: They editorialized against the Coal Transition once, not twice, but six times, including twice in the same day.)

The GOP, on the other hand, gets to give their regressive agenda an air of legitimacy. It’s why Republicans like Senator Brian Boquist can just link to an Oregonian article as their post-legislative short session update.

This absurd line of attack shows the true desperation of corporate polluters and their legislative allies in the GOP. Environmentalists, clean energy job creators, health advocates and others forced the large utilities to the table with a popular ballot measure. These naturally opposed sides, along with consumer advocates (The Citizens’ Utility Board) found common ground on a policy they could all support, and let the legislature do its job of making good law — all that despite Republican obstructionism to keep Oregon hooked on polluting, dirty coal.

The Takeaway: Oregon’s Clean Electricity law made history, and we’re now leading the country when it comes to sustainability. The GOP couldn’t stop the bill by playing fair, so now they’re using all the tools at their disposal to paint the law as a special interest scheme — opening the door to weakening the law down the line, and sending a message to other states that they shouldn’t bother with sustainability.

What You Can Do: Talk to your friends and family about why sustainability matters — and the best way to start is by keeping up to date on the real environmental news.

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