Guest Opinion: Who speaks for ‘business’ in Oregon?

Who speaks for small businesses in Oregon?

I have been asking myself this question for some years now as a small-business owner and the co-chair of a statewide small business association.

In March, three groups claiming to represent “business” in Oregon sent nearly identical letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The letters urged the Trump administration to approve a Canadian corporation’s proposed Jordan Cove fracked gas export terminal at Coos Bay and a Pacific Connector pipeline across 229 miles of private and public land in Southern Oregon.

The letters were sent on behalf of the boards of the Oregon Business Council, Oregon Business & Industry, and Portland Business Alliance.

Their boards include some of the largest corporations in America. They also include some well-known Southern Oregonians who you wouldn’t expect to be supporting the Jordan Cove project.

As part of the small business community in Southern Oregon, which has spoken out loudly regarding our opposition to the pipeline, I found these letters totally out of sync with the interests of small businesses and residents who live here.

When a Canadian company first proposed exporting U.S. gas to Asia, an executive of Avista told the Medford Chamber of Commerce that it would drive up prices we all pay for energy here at home.

Hundreds of ranchers, farmers, small-business owners and others would be forced to have the pipeline cross their land or face the threat of eminent domain.

Agricultural businesses would be threatened as the proposed export terminal would become the largest source of climate pollution in the state. As the Mail Tribune reported recently, Southern Oregon wines are already facing taste contamination from an increase in smoke caused, in part, by climate change. And we all face new health and safety risks if a highly explosive pipeline is built across our already fire-prone region and a major new explosion hazard is built in the coastal tsunami zone.

The proposed pipeline would threaten more than 400 waterways. What about the impact on all the small businesses that depend on them?

The project has drawn bipartisan opposition, including the Jackson County commissioners and State Rep. Pam Marsh.

So why would the big business associations send form letters of support?

Could it be that these groups watch out for the interests of the largest corporations, and not the rest of us?

Each group has a few token small-business people on its board. But the boards are overwhelmingly dominated by the biggest corporate interests, many from out of state.

The Oregon Business Council board includes representatives of companies like US Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Comcast, Liberty Northwest Insurance, Columbia Sportswear, Moda Health, Intel and the Portland Trail Blazers and Portland Timbers.

This board — now on record supporting the fracked gas pipeline and export terminal — also includes Jessica Gomez of Rogue Valley Microdevices, Sid DeBoer of Lithia Motors, Bill Thorndike of Medford Fabrication and Dave Underriner of Providence Health & Services.

The Oregon Business & Industry board that endorsed the export and pipeline project includes many of the same big national banks, as well as Weyerhaeuser, Berkshire Hathaway Energy (billionaire Warren Buffett’s company), Regence BlueCross BlueShield, and CenturyLink. It also includes Dan Thorndike of Medford Fabrication, Harry & David, and the Chamber of Medford-Jackson County.

The Portland Business Alliance board includes many of those same companies, as well as Walmart, Uber and J.P. Morgan Chase, one of the banks financing the project.

Support for Jordan Cove by these big business associations is particularly ironic given that they have led the opposition to a proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act for Oregon. If drafted properly, that bill would create financial incentives for the largest polluters to reduce their impact on climate change. It would use money generated to create thousands of clean energy jobs and strengthen small businesses in regions like ours.

Given that the Trump administration seems already determined to rubberstamp this Canadian corporation’s Jordan Cove proposal, we wonder whether the letters were really designed to pressure Gov. Kate Brown, who claims to be a champion of small businesses, local agriculture, clean water and climate action but has not spoken up for Oregon on this issue.

If any companies and individuals with their names on these letters don’t actually support Jordan Cove, they will need to send letters to Governor Brown and to FERC, making that clear.

Meanwhile, the rest of us need to speak out. You can find out how at nolngexports.org.

Mark Kellenbeck is a small-business owner in Phoenix and co-chair of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon, a statewide association representing small business owners.

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