Media Room

OLCV Keynote
Friday, May 1, 2015
Governor’s remarks: 7:30 p.m.


Thank you, Carl. Good evening, and thank you for the opportunity to spend this time with you.

I don’t have to tell anyone in this room that there is something special about Oregon.  Sure, we are surrounded by natural beauty but we are also infused with something more: a progressive spirit and a commitment to public democracy so profound that we have come to lead the nation in its practice. 

From the bottle bill to ensuring coastal access.  From the citizen’s initiative process to our new motor voter law, we have shown the rest of the country how it ought to be done. 

Tonight I wanted to share with you stories of three Oregonians who helped establish Oregon as a leader in environmental stewardship by thinking outside the box. 

Or the bottle.  Or the can. 

Richard Chambers loved wild Oregon. He would get on his motorcycle and travel all over the state.  Even in very remote locations, he would frequently encounter garbage, and he would go berserk. Litter made him so upset that on family trips to the coast, he would take a sack for bottles and cans he collected on Oregon beaches. He was constantly looking for a solution to this problem. He wanted desperately to preserve this wild and beautiful place we call home.

One Sunday morning in 1969, the Chambers family was staying in Pacific City.  Richard came across a newspaper article about a new system in Great Britain for collecting bottles and cans. It was a simple, yet brilliant solution. Richard decided right then and there it would work in Oregon. He immediately called his state senator and said, this is what we are going to do.

It took two legislative sessions before Richard Chambers got the solution he wanted. Oregon became the first state in the nation to require deposits on cans and bottles.

Because of this one citizen activist, Oregon’s landscape has changed forever. An astounding 90% of containers are returned for re-use, which means less litter, helping Oregon remain a clean, green place to live.


Another example of innovative approaches to preserving what's special about Oregon is our land-use laws.  Oregon has what is arguably the most well-developed land use planning system in the United States. 

One man more than anyone else deserves the credit for the idea:  Hector Macpherson. Hector passed away in March.

After World War II, Hector and Kitty MacPherson moved to Oakville, where they lived for 60 years and raised their five children.

As the owner of a 180-acre dairy farm at a time of tremendous population growth in the Willamette Valley, Hector had been concerned for years about the loss of farm land to development. He helped form the first planning commission in Linn County. In 1970, he ran for and was elected to the Oregon State Senate. And in 1973, he was one of the primary architects of Senate Bill 100, the Land Conservation and Development Act, which laid the groundwork for our land use system.

Our land conservation and development program has kept virtually all of our productive farm and forest land available for its intended purpose.  It also has helped make our cities vibrant places to live and work.

Without Hector’s extraordinary leadership, the south facing hills in the Willamette Valley currently planted with vineyards would be filled with rows of ticky-tacky houses, crammed shoulder to shoulder.

So, current and future generations of Oregonians owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Chambers and Hector Macpherson, whose innovation and leadership left this state a better place than they found it.

But their legacy of environmental victories is currently under threat. All of that good work could be lost and forgotten, unless we do something meaningful – and soon – about global climate change. 

This is THE issue of our time.

Oregon’s unique and special way of life is being stalked by climate change.  Unchecked, it will have devastating effects on all that we, as Oregonians, hold dear. And future generations will rightly judge the morality and leadership of this generation – our generation – not by the fact of climate change, but how we responded to it.

The evidence is compelling: record low snowpack, the warmest winter since 1895, and seven Oregon counties in states of drought emergency before the end of April – and I predict more on the way. 

Along with drought, we have its nefarious companion, wildfire, not only for this upcoming summer season, but summers yet to come.  As our forests change, wildfire is going to be an ever-increasing challenge for Oregonians. 

So, what do we do faced with the inevitability of climate change?  We need to take action, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to prepare for the consequences of warmer temperature.  We need to plan for both the long-term, and the short-term.  This is not a challenge that is going to be overcome by the flip of a switch or a vote in the legislature.

For the short-term, we must invest in solutions that will enable our communities to cope with drought, wildfire, and other consequences of a warming climate. 

Over the longer term, as other parts of our nation become increasingly inhospitable and our own Cascade snowpack shrinks, we also need to change how we manage our water resources.

My budget includes $56 million for a statewide water resources program. This program calls for collaborative, place-based planning for water conservation, storage and watershed improvements.

At the same time that we are grappling with drought and wildfire, we also are facing pressure on the quality of our rivers and streams.  Last year, public recreational use of the lower Willamette was shut down for 16 days with an algal bloom due, at least in part, to low water levels and warm temperatures.

We have increased the percentage of Oregon waterways with good or excellent water quality from 27% in 1990, to 50% in 2013.  However, there is still much work to do to assure that our children have access to clean water. 

That is why my budget proposes restoring funding to clean water programs in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  In addition, I have proposed a 15 million dollar Clean Water Fund to work with farmers and ranchers to improve riparian conditions and water quality.  By creating incentives for agriculture to become part of the solution for clean water, this initiative lays the foundation for farming and ranching to remain an iconic part of Oregon’s future.

Additionally, because of the great work everyone in this room did to elect pro-environment candidates, the Legislature was able to pass – and I signed into law – the Clean Fuels bill.  This legislation represents a collaborative effort between Oregon, Washington, California and British Columbia, which, combined, make up one-fifth of the world’s economy. 

We all value clean air. And not only does the new law mean cleaner air for Oregonians, this structure is an important next step towards reducing transportation-related carbon emissions by ten percent over the next decade.

Yes, we can make a difference.  But there is still much left to do to reduce emissions. 

And this is work we must do together.

A month ago, I was pleased to join U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell in approving historic agreements that will go a long way to ensuring the survival of the western sage grouse.  These agreements are part of our Oregon Sage Grouse Action Plan that will allow us to prevent and respond to range land fires that threaten sage grouse habitat across eastern Oregon.

It was very rewarding for me as your Governor, both to witness this remarkable bird in its natural habitat, and the thoughtful collaboration between ranchers and environmentalists. Without that collaborative spirit, the habitat of the sage grouse might have been severely compromised.

Years ago, I decided to enroll in the environmental law program at Lewis & Clark law school because I wanted the tools to change the world. I truly believe that by working together we can make a difference in how we address climate change.

The sage grouse agreements prove this is possible. 

As does the Oregon chub; the first fish in United States history to be removed from the endangered species list.

And the fact that, for the first time in thirty years, the snowy plover is once again nesting on the Nehalem Spit.

The recovery of the sage grouse, the Oregon Chub and the snowy plover – these are not accidents.  It’s what happens when Oregonians work together, when we reject the notion of choosing sides.  As Oregonians, we are all on the same side – it’s the Oregon way.

History shows that Oregon has set the standard for environmental leadership. For that to continue, Oregon needs an environmental champion in the Governor’s chair.

I will be that champion. 

I am committed to protecting the natural environment that we depend on to sustain life – not just our quality of life, but life itself.

It’s that important. 

Richard Chambers and Hector Macpherson: their environmental legacy embodies “the Oregon Way” – that one person, with good ideas and determination, working with like-minded people, truly can change the world.

I find that incredibly inspiring.  In that spirit, let’s continue this important work.

We, in this room tonight, have plenty of determination. We have many more good ideas. And we are going to work together to make them happen.

Thank you.​