Good afternoon! I’m just so delighted to be here today at the Portland City Club. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Since I became your governor, I’ve worked to make Oregon a state where everyone can thrive. To build a better Oregon for everyone. And to that end, we’ve made a lot of progress on our statewide goals.
Such as the largest bipartisan transportation package since the Johnson era. 400 million dollars per year focusing on the safety, resiliency, and drivability of our roads and bridges. And the first ever statewide investment in public transit.
We’ve led the nation in access to the ballot box with Automatic Voter Registration and paid postage. And because of that leadership, we are ranked number one easiest state to vote in and have some of the highest voter turnout.
In my tenure as governor, we have invested over half a billion dollars in housing. The goal, of course, is that every Oregonian has a warm, safe, dry, affordable, and accessible place to call home.
To give you some perspective, this four-year investment is more than we’ve invested in the past 161 years of statehood.
We passed a budget that protects health care coverage for 1 million Oregonians, including every single child.
We passed the most comprehensive reproductive health bill in the country, ensuring that every woman no matter her zip code or income or immigration status can access the full complement of reproductive services. And working closely with the business community, we crafted the most progressive paid family leave policy in the nation.
And as we speak, teachers and administrators are preparing for the largest influx of education funding that Oregon has ever seen, thanks to the Student Success Act.
And we ensure that all this new money goes into classrooms through a bipartisan effort to stabilize PERS rates for schools.
We’ve learned this week that our state graduation rate has risen to 80%, the highest in Oregon’s history.
And most importantly, we’ve seen significant gains in our vulnerable communities, our communities of color, and our tribal communities.
This is specifically the result of targeted efforts to improve outcomes for these under-served students.
But Oregon’s state motto is “she flies with her own wings” not “she rests on her laurels.”
So, we’re calling this round of conversations the 2020 legislative table set.
It’s fitting because this year we’re not only setting the table for the legislative session, we’re truly setting the table for Oregon’s future.
We must do something meaningful – and soon – about climate change. This is THE issue of our time.
We know that, if left unchecked, climate change will have devastating effects on all that we hold dear.
And future generations will rightly judge us not by the fact of global climate change, but what we’ve done to tackle it.
The question is not whether we can afford to do something about climate change, it’s whether we can afford to do nothing.
It’s our responsibility — and for those of us privileged to hold public office, literally our jobs — to stand up and be counted.
Oregon may be a small state with our modest population and 7 electoral votes, but it is a state with a 12-billion-dollar tourism industry, and some of the fastest growing cities in the nation, like Portland.
We have 363 miles of beloved coastline, and 30 million acres of forest—a little under half of the state’s total landmass.
Our state’s heart and soul are in the ocean and those trees, as well as the natural resource industries that surround them: farmers, fishers and ranchers.
We are being impacted by climate change now with last year’s water quality crisis in the Willamette Valley, the diminishing shellfish populations due to ocean acidification, and the voracious wildfires in 2016, 17, and 18. And it’s only going to get more challenging.
After the Senate Republican walk-out and the collapse of the cap and trade legislation last year, I did a lot of reflecting on how we can move forward.
I’ve met with folks from the timber and wood products industry. I toured sawmills, sat down with plant managers and suppliers, and had face-to-face conversations with Timber Unity.
I met with the farm bureau, business leaders, and activists from all sides of this debate. I not only listened to them, but I heard them.
I’ve taken all these conversations to heart and we’ve made a number of serious policy changes to address many of their concerns. I am committed to crafting climate policy that protects our environment and also grows our economy. In Oregon, we can do both.
But before I get into the finer details of those solutions, I want to take a moment to reflect on the why. Because before we can discover what we have to gain, we should all be on the same page about what we have to lose.
After the 2018 fire season, I established the Oregon Wildfire Council. We are currently fighting fires with last century’s tools. The council’s job is to modernize prevention, mitigation, and suppression of wildfires as our climate continues to change.
We’re in the middle of a perfect storm: decades of federal land mismanagement combined with changing climate.
Our mission is to keep Oregonians safe and our landscape healthy. But we can’t do that if we are running plays from last century’s playbook.
For resilient landscapes, the state must actively manage roughly 5.6 million acres of state forests and rangelands.
We can do this through the thinning of trees, more frequent prescribed burns, and the removal of fuels for wildfire.
There’s no question that this is a major investment.
The wildfire council estimates it will cost around 200 million dollars annually over the next twenty years for prevention, mitigation, and suppression.
Doing nothing is not an option. If we don’t act now, the costs will be 11 times greater. Not to mention the potential loss of homes, land, and life.
And by investing in restoration treatments and forest health, Oregon may avoid costly damages while simultaneously creating jobs in rural parts of the state.
Jobs like forester Jana Peterson in Eastern Oregon who works with local landowners to thin overgrown tree stands. She knows the science, she knows the land, and through her work thinning trees she’s making our forests healthier and more fire-resilient—one acre at a time.
Another great example is the work being done in Central Oregon with the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project.
The Collaborative includes experts from every corner of industry and interest: Timber, tourism, and conservation.
These environmentalists, loggers, private landowners, and tribal members understand that their beloved forests are at risk unless they act now.
And they have learned this is work we must do together.
Which is why I am asking the legislature to invest 200 million dollars annually in wildfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression efforts.
It’s imperative that we preserve the beauty and bounty of Oregon.
Because our thriving economy is, in part, dependent on our bountiful natural resources—fisheries, timber, wine grapes, and wheat.
When I drive through farm country, I love seeing signs everywhere for century farms—farms that have been family-held for 100 years.
Oregon currently has over 1200 century farms. And 41 sesquicentennial farms—that’s 150 years of family farming.
To become a century farm, families have made and continue to make sacrifices so that their farms can stand the test of time.
They are feeding our families. They are providing timber for our homes. They grow plants and seeds that make up yards, plots, and properties throughout the state and all over the world.
These are billion-dollar industries that started with one family, a plot of land, and the persistence to make it happen.
Our farmers are innovating every day in the face of a changing climate.
Grass-seed farmers are exploring no-till farming practices that lower fuel costs and retain moisture in the soil.
Gingerich Farms in Clackamas County hires falconers to control pests instead of using harmful pesticides.
And every day, more Oregon farms are deciding to become vertically integrated, taking out the go-between to supply what they need to do business.
These families are thinking ahead, hoping that they will have something to hand down to their children and grandchildren.
And now we find ourselves in the same position.
Take, for example, Ben Deumling. Ben’s family has been operating Zena Forest Products in the heart of the Willamette Valley for three generations.
As a rural business owner, he realizes that climate legislation may cause him to tighten his belt in the short term.
As Ben says, “there is no magical, free solution to this problem. But the cost of inaction will hurt my bottom line much more.”
The world’s economies are rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuels. We need to continue to be a leader in this effort.
There are so many incredible things about Portland that make it a great place to call home. At the same time, you are watching your community change very rapidly.
We’re seeing this around Oregon and across the country.
Portland experienced what many are calling a “mid-decade boom,” and there have been an influx of young folks, businesses, and families to the city and outlying neighborhoods. The housing, tourism, and hospitality industries couldn’t grow fast enough to keep up!
Portland used to be one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., but growth has slowed. And now we must take a long look at the city’s quality of life, rather than the quantity of people living here.
We know that the cost of living continues to rise in this city, and that many folks here are struggling to make ends meet. With housing insecurity. With healthcare costs. With student debt.
And as the city is put to use commuters, working people, and tourists alike, we must invest in the resiliency of our infrastructure. Especially in the face of a potential Cascadia seismic event. That means our roads, bridges, buildings, and, of course, the Critical Energy Infrastructure Hub here in NW Portland.
Because we want to keep Portland the weird, close-knit, Northwest city where people have chickens in their backyards and make their own pickles. But to do that, the city must continue to be livable.
While Portland is the metropolitan, trade, and tourism epicenter of Oregon, the state as a whole is still very much a natural resource-dependent economy.
And, to echo Ben, these are the industries that will see the impacts of climate change first—in their crop yields and bottom lines.
In the same way that they are on the front lines of the impacts of climate change, they are also on the front line to be able to combat it.
And that’s why it is so important to have an economy-wide solution.
The spike of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has been building worldwide since industrialization. And it is caused by humans.
The impacts of climate change are even more devastating to our most vulnerable communities.
Communities of color, low income, and rural communities already have higher rates of chronic diseases like asthma and heart disease. Climate change increases these existing health disparities.
For example, in 2018 we saw a 20% increase in the number of asthma and other respiratory-related emergency room visits during the peak of wildfire season.
Reducing emissions will play an important role in the worldwide effort to slow the gradual warming of our planet, which will reduce the risk of wildfire, and thus in turn will reduce smoke risk.
Unfortunately, we’re not going to get any help from our federal government. This administration has already rolled back some 85 environmental regulations. They are currently gutting the Clean Water Act, as well as many other laws that were signed by President Nixon.
The good news is that our nation’s founders gave states the ability to control our own destinies. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
It is my hope and expectation that the legislature will move forward with legislation in the 2020 session that will:
● Set a science-based, economy-wide cap to reduce carbon emissions
● This cap will have an enforcement mechanism that will keep us on track to meet our emissions goals.
● And it will do so in a flexible manner that makes significant investments in and does not exacerbate existing economic disparities in our rural communities, communities of color, and
After taking the time to speak to stakeholders in communities all over the state, I’ve taken stock of our situation.
And here’s what we know: the transportation sector is the biggest contributor to our statewide emissions—more than both the industrial and agricultural sectors combined.
We know that the lion’s share of transportation emissions occurs in more densely populated areas. Which is why, after careful thought, we have come up with a geographic phase-in that will start in Portland in 2022 and then in 2025 will expand to other populated areas.
This legislature is still finalizing the details. But under this plan or similar versions of it, the majority of truly rural communities will be exempted from price increases at the pump.
This may sound familiar because that’s how we crafted our minimum wage increase, to reflect the different economic regions of Oregon.
The amendments also mitigate the effects of price increases on rural manufacturers like food processors, sawmills, as well as pulp and paper mills.
Last week, representatives of the food processing industry — which opposed this bill last year — changed positions and came out in support of this new proposal, specifically citing the focus on energy efficiency as a better way to do business.
Craig Smith of Food Northwest said, “Focusing on reducing carbon through efficiency rather than rate increases allows us as a business to not only reduce our carbon footprint and do so without the crippling effect of rate increases.”
We listened. We heard. We made modifications. And now it’s time to get this done.
We know that capping and pricing carbon pollution provides a way for Oregon to meet our climate goals, grow our economy, and create new, good-paying jobs all over Oregon – jobs that can’t be outsourced.
And the proposal enables us to make investments to help all Oregonians transition to cleaner energy.
It’s critical that we get this done and do it in a way that will not exacerbate existing inequities but invest in addressing them.
One last story I want to leave you with:
Many of you may remember the 2018 Klondike fire that burned over 175,000 acres of the Rogue-Siskiyou forest in Southern Oregon. Devastating for the forest, wildlife, and residents in the area.
Just days before harvest, a large, out-of-state winery rejected over 2,000 tons of fruit. Four-million-dollar worth of wine grapes left on the vine because the company worried the grapes were tainted by the smoke.
But Oregonians stepped up.
Lab analysis revealed that most of the crop was not damaged.
So, Willamette Valley Vineyards, King Estate Winery, Silvan Ridge Winery, and Eyrie teamed up to help out.
One week later, an extraordinary plan was set in motion:
The winemakers bought as many of the grapes as they could, prioritizing smaller farms and vineyards that lacked crop insurance.
They were able to save about a quarter of the season’s crop—far from every grape, but enough to make a difference.
The four wineries worked as one to make three new wines under the label: “Oregon Solidarity.” I’ve had some; it’s delicious.
The proceeds from the wines have been donated to the Rogue Valley Vintners to help support vineyards in the region.
I share this story to make a larger point: that despite an amazing, industry-wide effort, they were still only able to save a quarter of that crop of grapes.
What happens in 2020 if we have another devastating wildfire season?
This story also reminds me that Oregonians are capable of seeing the forest through the trees, of thinking of their future, rather than wallowing in the present.
We take care of each other, even when it’s not the most convenient for us to do so.
And now, as we have done in the past, we must take the time to invest in the future of our state because it matters not just to our lives, but to the lives of our children and our grandchildren.
Because we want a thriving Oregon economy ten years, twenty years, and a hundred years from now. I want all of our century farms to become bicentennial farms.
I heard a really talented Salem high school junior Eddy Binford-Ross speak on the steps of the Capitol building this past summer. And she’s here with us today. Eddy, would you please stand up?
Eddy, you said, “we live in this hyper-polarized world where everything is left or right, red or blue, but right now we do not have time to waste. It’s time for us to act.”
And I thought to myself, “Damn, we’re raising some really smart kids in this state.”
She couldn’t be more right. Together we must act.