The Oregon legislature delivered big for the environment in 2023

The 2023 Oregon legislative session is officially over– and the Oregon legislature delivered some big wins for the environment.

Beyond plastic


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The 2023 Oregon legislative session started on January 17th and ran through June 25th. Along the way, the Oregon legislature considered dozens of bills related to the environment– and from reducing plastic pollution to investing in climate solutions, from getting toxic chemicals out of children’s products and cosmetics to phasing out fluorescent light bulbs containing mercury, from investing in wildlife crossings and boosting the transition to clean energy, the Oregon legislature delivered. But, as with most legislative sessions, they missed some key opportunities as well.

Here are some of the Environment Oregon-backed bills that the Oregon legislature passed that will help build a cleaner, greener future– and some missed opportunities to consider in future sessions.

The bills that passed:

Staff | TPIN
It takes a village to win action on plastic pollution. State Rep. Janeen Sollman (second from left) celebrates the passage of Oregon's polystyrene foam ban with Environment Oregon State Director Celeste Meiffren-Swango (first on left) and staff from our coalition partners at Oceana and Surfrider Foundation.

Wildlife over Waste

Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute the environment and harm wildlife for hundreds of years. Plastic pollution is creating an environmental disaster for ocean wildlife: plastic and other marine debris kills millions of sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals every year. Plastic also contributes to climate change at every step of its lifecycle, from production to pollution. It’s time to move beyond single-use plastic by getting rid of the most harmful waste, and stopping the use of things we truly don’t need. This session, the Oregon legislature passed:

  • A statewide ban on polystyrene takeout containers and cups. One of the most egregious single-use plastics is polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam. Senate Bill 543 bans polystyrene foam foodware, packing peanuts and coolers and PFAS in food packaging starting on January 1, 2025.
  • Legalizing reusables. Currently, Oregon’s health code does not allow consumers or store-owned reusable containers to be used in bulk sections or for produce. Senate Bill 545 updates Oregon health code to establish legal reuse systems and consumer opportunities to bring their own containers to cut down on wasteful packaging. 
Products that have a ‘forever’ impact on our planet, like polystyrene, which doesn’t biodegrade, and PFAS forever chemicals that build up in our bodies and environment, should be eliminated. Senate Bill 543 is an important step in getting us closer to the zero waste future we're working to build. Senator Janeen Sollman
State Senator for SD-15
Heat Pump Installation

Clean energy homes 

We have the ability to harness clean, abundant energy from the sun, the wind and the earth, and to fully repower our society with 100 percent renewable sources. Federal tax credits and rebates passed under the Inflation Reduction Act makes it easier and more affordable than ever to electrify our buildings. Not only are electric technologies like heat pumps and induction stoves more efficient, they can also be powered by renewable energy like solar and wind rather than fossil fuels.

The Oregon legislature passed the Climate Resilience Package, which includes these key Clean Energy Homes policies (in addition to many more): 

  • Healthy Heating and Cooling for All will accelerate heat pump deployment and support energy efficiency programs focused on weatherization and efficiency retrofits;
  • Build Smart from the Start will update Oregon’s base building code so all new buildings are built to be more energy efficient from the start;
  • Building Performance Standards will require large, energy-intensive commercial buildings to adopt a building performance standard to improve efficiency;
  • Smart State Buildings will make it easier for state owned public buildings to be made more energy efficient. 
  • Solar + Storage Rebate Program Extension will extend Oregon’s successful Solar + Storage rebate program to continue to help reduce costs, drive installation, and make rooftop solar a possibility for all Oregonians.
  • Residential Heat Pump Program Extension will extend the Oregon Department of Energy’s Residential and Community Heat Pump Deployment Programs to bring heat relief for Oregonians by providing heat pumps at low cost.
Fluorescent bulb change
lunopark |

Clean Lighting Standards

Fluorescent lights contain mercury, which is a potent and persistent neurotoxin, by design. Today, non-toxic, highly efficient alternatives are broadly available. The Oregon legislature passed a bill (House Bill 2531) to phase out fluorescent lighting and eliminate a toxin from the waste stream, reduce energy waste and save consumers money.

child with cat makeup | Public Domain

Stopping toxic threats

There are more than 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, most of them put directly into use without testing the long-term consequences for our health or their impact on our environment. We should make sure that any chemical in use is safe, eliminate those we know are dangerous, and stop using any that are damaging healthy ecosystems. This session, the Oregon legislature passed:

  • Toxic-Free Kids. The Toxic Free Kids Act of 2015 was an important step forward for environmental health and keeping our state’s children safe from dangerous chemicals. But unfortunately, Oregon’s kids can still be exposed to dangerous chemicals in children’s products. That’s why the Oregon legislature passed a bill (House Bill 3043) that will expand and strengthen the Toxic-Free Kids Act to ensure the health and safety of Oregon’s kids.
  • Toxic-Free Cosmetics. Every day, Oregonians use soaps, shampoos, makeup and other personal care products without realizing that those products could contain chemicals that present serious health risks. The legislature passed a bill (Senate Bill 546) that would require public disclosure about the worst carcinogens found in cosmetics and personal care products, and ban their sale in Oregon.

Clean air, healthy communities

As has been well documented, the plastic waste that is being burned at Oregon’s last remaining incinerator, Covanta, causes high levels of cancer-causing and highly toxic pollutants like dioxins, which can cause skin, blood, liver and reproductive problems. It also releases heavy metals and mercury, a neurotoxin that impairs brain function. Exposure to these emissions are dangerous for the people who live and work in proximity to the facility, and for our air, water and climate. The legislature passed a bill (Senate Bill 488) to require Covanta to do continuous monitoring of its most toxic and hazardous emissions and cap the amount of medical waste it can burn.

Connecting Nature

We need more nature. More nature means abundant wildlife in our world – from butterflies floating by, to coyotes howling at night, to whale tails breaching the surface just visible from shore. Nature works better when it’s connected. Wildlife crossings are typically overpasses or underpasses that allow wildlife to safely cross major roads that run through their habitats. Oregon currently only has five completed wildlife crossings, much fewer than other Western states, but because of investments made by the Oregon Legislature in 2022 and an additional $5 million allocation for the the next biennium passed this session (House Bill 5030), that number will soon grow.

Healthy farms, healthy environment

The term “Oregon farms,” elicits thoughts of our state’s core values: small farms, clean air and water, and healthy local food. Unfortunately, in recent years, mega-dairies and large chicken farms have been moving into rural Oregon and polluting the air with dangerous gasses including methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and contaminating surface and groundwater with nitrates, pharmaceuticals, and pathogens. The Oregon legislature passed Senate Bill 85, which will set a five-year pause on the livestock watering exemption, and will more strictly inspect and regulate our state’s largest mega-dairies and large chicken farms.

The missed opportunities:

  • Protect Oregon’s Ocean. Home to diverse wildlife from the smallest krill to large gray whales, the ocean off of Oregon’s coast — and the ecosystems they support — are worth preserving for future generations. House Bill 2903 would have provided additional investments in Oregon’s marine reserves program to ensure its continued success. Unfortunately, the Oregon legislature decided to make cuts to the program instead. We will be asking them to restore funding for this program in the 2024 short session.
  • Right to repair. We generate way too much waste, and companies use their power in the marketplace to make things harder to repair. This only adds to the amount of waste going to landfills. The legislature considered a bill (Senate Bill 542) to give every Oregonian and every small business access to the parts, tools, and service information they need to repair products. Yet, despite garnering a lot of support from a broad coalition and the public, the Oregon legislature couldn’t muster enough votes to get this bill passed in the face of opposition from big tech companies. We hope they get Right to Repair passed in the 2024 short session.
  • Reducing plastic at the source. Under a proposed bill (Senate Bill 544), producers would have been required to reduce the amount of plastics and plastic products they produce by 25%. As the saying goes, if your bathtub is overflowing, you wouldn’t start by bailing out the water, you’d start by turning off the tap. We need to “turn off the tap” and reduce the amount of plastics entering the market in the first place, resulting in less production of plastics overall. Unfortunately, this bill did not advance this session.
  • Preventing the permitting of new or expanded “chemical recycling” facilities in Oregon. So-called “chemical recycling” is a false solution to our plastics problem, which exacerbates the climate crisis and distracts from real solutions like reducing plastic production and transitioning to a zero waste system. We supported a bill (House Bill 3597) that would have restricted the expansion of these facilities in Oregon, but it did not move forward.
  • Toxic-Free Schools. Children are especially sensitive and susceptible to the dangers of toxic chemicals. A proposed bill (Senate Bill 426) would have increased transparency around pesticide use at Oregon schools so we can minimize the spraying of the worst pesticides on school grounds, especially close to where kids play.
  • E-Bike incentive. We simply can’t solve global warming without changing how Oregonians get around. Environment Oregon supports policies that encourage the shift to zero emission vehicles and reduce the need to drive by making it easier, cheaper and more enjoyable to travel on foot, bike or public transit. The legislature considered, but ultimately decided not to move forward with, an incentive program for electric bicycles (House Bill 2571).
Oregon State Capitol
M.O. Stevens | Public Domain

I am so proud of the work we did this session to advance our legislative priorities and give our tens of thousands of members a voice in Salem. Alongside our incredible coalition partners, effective and strategic legislative champs and the thousands of Oregonians making their voices heard on these critical issues, we were able to make meaningful progress this session on building a cleaner, greener future here in Oregon. Onward!

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Celeste Meiffren-Swango

State Director, Environment Oregon

As director of Environment Oregon, Celeste develops and runs campaigns to win real results for Oregon's environment. She has worked on issues ranging from preventing plastic pollution, stopping global warming, defending clean water, and protecting our beautiful places. Celeste's organizing has helped to reduce kids' exposure to lead in drinking water at childcare facilities in Oregon, encourage transportation electrification, ban single-use plastic grocery bags, defend our bedrock environmental laws and more. She is also the author of the children's book, Myrtle the Turtle, empowering kids to prevent plastic pollution. Celeste lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and two daughters, where they frequently enjoy the bounty of Oregon's natural beauty.

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