by Hart Noecker / Mismanaging Perception
Last week at a public hearing over the proposed Columbia River Crossing freeway expansion, Oregon League of Conservation Voters executive director Doug Moore sat down in the capitol building in Salem to testify against the bloated mega-project. After refusing to oppose the CRC during the 2013 legislative session, and after refusing to even sign on to a letter of opposition last fall for a renewed ‘Oregon-only’ push by state Democrats, OLCV was finally ready to come out swinging against the costly, ecologically disastrous boondoggle.
Moore thanked the hearing committee, mentioned how his group “holds legislative leaders accountable”, then spoke about how OLCV views CRC-supporting Dems as allies. He barely got out the words ‘opposed to this project‘ before concluding his testimony. In total, Doug Moore spoke for about 35 seconds.
As the state chapter of the national League of Conservation Voters, OLCV is among the most powerful and influential environmental groups in Oregon. Their endorsements and legislative scorecard rankings are coveted by politicians, and often set the overall tone for smaller enviro-groups. In a state that prides ecology, voters pay attention to what OLCV has to say. As an organization that brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual donations, OLCV is as well funded as they are politically well-connected.
It would stand to reason that such a group would wield its power to block bad legislation, speaking out against politicians pushing bills that pollute our air and water and damage forrest habitats. Yet, while on the right side of easy issues, OLCV has stayed notably silent on others. In understanding why a group with the ability to protect our bio-region would fail to do so by choice, one need only apply the old adage: Follow the Money.
Like most nonprofits, OLCV has a broad member/donor base that comprises a slim majority of its funding. However, also like most nonprofits, OLCV seeks out large chunks of cash from wealthy individuals and corporations themselves. In and of itself, you’d think this wouldn’t be a problem. Any responsible eco-group would either refuse money that posed a conflict of interest, or would take said money and refuse to let it affect their priorities, right?
Unfortunately, albeit predictably, this ‘non-profit’ has developed a track record of being fiscally compromised. On top of failing to oppose the CRC for years, when it comes to state logging operations, OLCV is undeniably complicit.
Among OLCV’s top donors last year was Deborah Noble, CEO of West Wind Forest Products, as was Louise Solliday, director of Oregon’s Department of State Lands. Appointed by current governor John Kitzhaber in 1998, Solliday’s department is effectively controlled by a board of just three people: the governor, the secretary of state, and the state treasurer. Each year, this board of three people votes on how much state forest land gets cut down. And unlike Federal forest land, Oregon state forests can legally be clear cut.
Recently, the board voted for a massive 70% increase in state logging. From The Oregonian last October: ”The Oregon Land Board unanimously approved a new management for the Elliott State Forest at its meeting in Salem this morning. The plan would increase the Elliott’s timber harvest to 40 million board feet per year, compared to 25 million board feet under a plan adopted in 1995.”
With such an outrageous sellout by our so-called progressive Democrats running the board, you’d expect state environmental groups to be up in arms. Many were, but not OLCV. Their tepid position was Tweeted out as expecting “hope” to solve the problem.
Such a betrayal might also explain why OLCV failed to include Oregon HB 2595 and 2596 on their ‘legislative scorecard’ for 2013. Both bills targeted actual forest defenders with civil and felony punishments for stopping destructive logging operations using proven non-violent methods. Therights of people who literally put their lives at risk on the front lines to save Oregon’s forestsweren’t worth defending, according to OLCV. What was more important on last year’s OLCV scorecard? SB 474, which punishes people for feeding raccoons.
OLCV has also been silent on U.S. Senator Ron Wyden‘s own SB 1784 O&C Lands Bill – which would transfer federal forest land in Oregon (where clear-cutting is illegal) to state control (where clear-cutting is allowed). While OLCV seems content letting their national affiliate write a mere letter of opposition, the statewide group Oregon Wild has been relentless in its opposition to this transfer.
OLCV has also taken money from Mel Rader, co-director of Upstream Public Health, the main proponent of last year’s failed attempt by well-funded special interests to force fluoridation upon Portlanders without a public vote. While numerous local environmental groups vocally opposed fluoridation as a threat to ground water and healthy habitats, OLCV was once again shamefully silent.
Oregon state rep. Jules Bailey was named OLCV’s ‘Environmental Leader of the Year’ recently, despite receiving the lowest score of his legislative career. Earning only 88%, Bailey scored worse than 12 other members of the Oregon house. Jules Bailey also happens to be one of OLCV’s largest donors. Had they included the Columbia River Crossing in their scorecard, he would have scored even lower. Good thing for Jules they didn’t. So much for “holding legislative leaders accountable”.
So when Doug Moore sat down to finally oppose the CRC for less than 1 minute only after years of being begged to do so by colleagues and activists, it’s hard not to roll your eyes and laugh. Doug’s condescending comments on the issue last spring were bad enough to last a lifetime.
While there are possibly places this group gets things right, OLCV’s record of getting it wrong is reckless for Oregon. The money they take in and their decision not to act when it matters most ought to make us take pause. The Oregon League of Conservation Voters clearly prizes access to power over practicing the courage of their stated convictions. Fortunately, there are far better conservation groups worth supporting who remain unwilling to compromise in defense of the Earth.
Seth Woolley contributed greatly to the research for this article.