Governor John Kitzhaber – Keynote Speech
April 19, 2014
“To serve is beautiful,” Pearl Buck once said, “but only if it is done with joy and a whole heart and a free mind.”
The environment lost a joyous warrior, a great friend and a tireless champion this year with the death of Tim Lillebo. I’d like to dedicate this talk to him.
Tim was an eastern Oregon forest advocate who embodied the seemingly incongruous traits critical for social change. He was passionate. He was persistent and patient, principled and practical, sober in his assessment about the seriousness of our predicament without succumbing to cynicism.
Tim left his mark on the old growth Ponderosa forests that still stand in Oregon, in river canyons where the water still runs cold and clear, in salmon runs still hanging on and in roadless areas that are still abundant with wildlife.
His spirit lives also on in the new-found collaboration that has brought conservation activists and the timber industry together in the Malheur and Deschutes National Forests to restore forest health and put Oregonians back to work in the woods.
My optimism about Oregon’s future is rooted in people like Tim Lillebo, and others in this room, who set our state apart in their conviction and commitment to this place.
Each of you may be driven by a different priority – some are engaged in our ongoing struggle to rid children’s products of toxics that threaten their health, others work to improve the quality of our waters, or ocean health, or restoring our state’s iconic endangered species and the habitat they need to survive, or the myriad impacts of our fossil fuel addiction – but all of you are motivated by the commitment and passion that Ken Kesey was thinking of when he said: “Oregon is a citadel of the spirit.”
I spent yesterday in Klamath Falls. I had the privilege and the honor of watching history being made as members of the Klamath Tribes and ranchers signed the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement that will bring prosperity and healing to the people and to the waters and the lands that make up that special place.
Yesterday’s milestone was 110 years in the making. Government over-promised what the limited resources of the Klamath Basin could deliver on a sustained basis. The resulting conflict, the water wars and fish kills have regularly made national news for the past two decades.
And yet somehow yesterday tribal members and irrigators stood together, honoring each other’s cultures and histories, declaring with solidarity that they’ve found a way to improve and protect the vast natural resources of the basin while providing the stability needed for a thriving agricultural economy.
And think about this: they reached this historic milestone despite the fact that they’re in the midst of one of the most significant droughts the region has ever experienced.
Standing there on the sun-drenched banks of the river, the celebration struck a particularly person note for me. Thirteen years ago this month – on April 13, 2001 – at the height of the first shut off of water I went to the Klamath County Fairground for what was billed as a “community meeting.” The Oregon State Trooper who had advanced the event told me to put on a Kevlar vest.
More than 6,000 people were there – angry, frightened, frustrated. A community divided. People who feared the future ... people who feared each other. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life ... and one of the saddest ... because of what had happened to this place and to the people who live there.
Now the story has come full circle and I have had the privilege and profoundly humbling experience of seeing from the chaos a remarkable process of reengagement emerge and blossom into a community rebuilt in common cause.
Wallace Stegner was right when he wrote in The Sound of Mountain Water: “...one cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is still the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery."
To heal other places and other communities in Oregon, and to help lead similar efforts for the rest of our nation, we need only to remember that as Oregonians we are bound together – our future prosperity depends on this foundation. However complex our problems – and many remain – the recognition that as Oregonians there is much more that unites us than divides us is my great hope for our future.
We’ll need every bit of that spirit to tackle the issue of our time: global climate change. Those in this room are the first generations to see the very real consequences of climate change – and the last generations that can still effectively do something about it.
For Oregon and the world, climate change is an environmental and economic imperative. It is the greatest challenge to our legacy and the greatest threat to our future. It is also an opportunity -- an opportunity for our state to build on its competitive advantages by building a low-carbon economy that can be the envy of the world. Toward that end my administration is taking a number of steps.
First, it is time to once and for all to say NO to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest. It is time to say YES to national and state energy policies that will transform our economy and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation.
Just over a year ago, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and I asked the federal government for a comprehensive review of all of the coal export proposals pending in the Pacific Northwest -- including the Ambre Energy proposal in Boardman Oregon. We have repeatedly called for an open process to consider how we use publicly-owned coal resources and the health impacts of coal use and transport.
To date the federal government has refused to look at the full impacts of the coal export proposals and we have seen no sign of the emergence of a thoughtful and comprehensive energy policy for our nation. In the absence such a policy, it is too easy to decide by not deciding, locking ourselves into a coal-dependent future for our west coast ports and for Asia. That is not a course I am willing to pursue.
I commend Governor Inslee for assuring that Washington’s review of the coal export facilities proposed in his state reflect a full examination of the upstream and downstream impacts of coal: from rail congestion and coal dust to the air pollution we now experience on the west coast from burning coal in Asia.
Unfortunately, Oregon law is more limited in terms of what we can consider in reviewing large-scale projects such as the proposed Ambre coal export facility. I assure you, however, that we are carefully reviewing all of the issues under our authority, and that I will do all that I can within the context of existing Oregon law to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal-dependent future.
Furthermore, I have asked my staff to develop proposals for the 2015 Oregon Legislature that, going forward, will assure that there is a comprehensive public review of the costs and benefits of significant development proposals like the coal export facilities now on the drawing boards.
The Australian corporation proposing a coal export terminal in Boardman has repeatedly failed to provide requested information about its proposal. More recently, several Columbia River tribes have provided documentation that the proposed facility would destroy at least three Native American fishing sites protected by treaty. This information, along with prior submittals, also shows that increased barge traffic would interfere with fishing and other public uses of the Columbia River.
Ambre Energy has been given two years to show that its proposal will meet Oregon’s regulatory standards and to date has been unable to demonstrate its ability to do so. The time has come to call the question and I expect the Oregon Department of State Lands to make its final decision by no later than May 31, 2014.
The future for Oregon and the West Coast does not lie in nineteenth century energy sources. The 21st century will mark the transition to clean energy sources, and the regions that lead this transition will be the places where our families will find the jobs of the future. I intend that this will be one such region.
Last year the political leadership along the West Coast came together to take advantage of the fact that this region constitutes the fifth largest economy in the world. On October 28th -- along with the Governors of Washington and California and the Premier of British Columbia, I signed the West Coast Climate and Energy Action Plan.
This historic agreement seeks to align climate and energy policies along the west coast and then use this huge regional market to accelerate the transition to a sustainable clean economy. Clean fuels, clean energy and clean technology are no niche play for me; they are key components of my jobs and innovation agenda and will be a centerpiece of my economic development strategy for my last term as governor.
Toward that end I have taken steps to ensure that Oregon does not lose its edge on clean fuels. While British Columbia and California reap the benefits of capital investment and job creation from opening their transportation fuel markets to cleaner burning fuels, Oregon lags behind.
Recognizing this, in February I directed DEQ to move forward with full implementation of the Clean Fuels Program to create Oregon jobs and help communities here thrive. This will open up our market while supporting Oregon’s biofuel producers and feedstock growers, our burgeoning electric vehicle industry, and propane, natural gas, and other innovative fuel companies ready to invest in the state.
I have also directed my administration to develop additional tools for increasing energy efficiency in all public buildings, moving beyond Cool Schools to Cool Libraries, Police and Fire stations, and city halls.
We are also in the early stages of exploring how we might use the dynamic West Coast regional economy to develop and implement a responsible natural gas certification program to impact the upstream environmental problems associate with the production of natural gas.
The goals would be to ensure the maximum reduction of methane emissions and water pollution in the production, transport and deployment process; to ensure that natural gas serves as a resource to reduce – not increase – greenhouse gas emissions by replacing dirtier, higher carbon sources of energy; and to ensure that the deployment of natural gas does not displace or slow down investment in energy efficiency, conservation or renewable energy production.
Finally, we are seeking to develop new models for our working farms and our working forests on federal, state and private lands because we recognize that how we manage our farm and forestlands will be key to resilience and the mitigation of the rapidly mounting impacts of climate change.
Farming and forestry remains key to rural communities throughout the state, as the number two and the number three industries in Oregon in terms of economic output.
And yet, many parts of rural Oregon are lagging well behind Portland, Bend, and Salem in terms of economic recovery. Much of the poverty in Oregon is concentrated in these areas. At the same time, our forests and farms are threatened by fire, disease, and drought.
We need new models and new partnerships that can provide badly needed rural jobs and conservation gains, while also recognizing that many of these places are key to resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate.
I am working with many of the interests in this room to develop conservation finance tools that will make these ideas a reality – a reality that will result in both new jobs for impoverished parts of our state and protection of the special places that are most threatened by development.
None of this will be easy. But our future will not be secured by framing the challenges before us as a zero sum contest between the environment and the economy. The people in the Klamath Basin not only came to the same conclusion but demonstrated just yesterday that it is possible.
I believe that this country was founded on the principles of equity and opportunity. The central goal of my administration is to help ensure that every Oregonian – regardless of income, geography, race or home language – has an equal opportunity to meet their basic needs; to strive to reach their full potential; to better themselves through hard work; and to leave their children better off than they were – both economically and environmentally.
The path to that goal runs the economy – but not just any economy. An economy that creates living wage jobs and supports workers with the education, training, and skills to secure those jobs; where rural Oregon communities are as strong as cities in the Willamette Valley or the Gorge.
An economy that reduces our carbon footprint and restores our natural resources; an economy that recognizes the values inherent in a healthy environment and protects those values for current and future generations; and an economy that demonstrates that a healthy environment means jobs — good ones, resilient ones.
Together, I’m confident we will succeed. Tim Lillebo understood that change does not come easily. But he also understood that it is possible to turn conflict into community; and that we do not have to be guided by false choices. With the kind of persistence and steadfast focus that was his hallmark, change can and will come.
It is easy to get caught up in the polarizing posturing that has so infected every part of our public discourse. But here in Oregon our accomplishments stand in stark contrast to the political tenor of our times. Heated partisanship neither reflects nor serves the values or day-to-day reality of people.
Oregonians understand that our environment is not a resource to be exploited. It is the foundation for a future that is cleaner, healthier, more prosperous, and more just.