Environmentalists Want Gov. Kate Brown to Rescind Appointment to Transportation Commission

Brown picked longtime state Sen. Lee Beyer, a moderate, for the position.

On Aug. 31, Gov. Kate Brown announced she’d nominated 114 people to state boards and commissions.

One of those picks is receiving significant blowback: Brown’s selection of outgoing state Sen. Lee Beyer (D-Springfield) to serve on the Oregon Transportation Commission. Eleven environmental groups—including 1000 Friends of Oregon, the Street Trust and Oregon Walks—penned a Sept. 13 letter to Brown objecting to Beyer’s nomination.

The letter (view here) expresses concern that Beyer, a moderate Democrat who’s endorsed former Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) for governor, will rubber-stamp big highway projects.

“Heat domes. Wildfires. Traffic fatalities. Congestion. Gentrification. Inflation. This is no time for business as usual,” the letter says.

It’s best understood as the latest flare-up over big-ticket highway projects: a highway widening in the Rose Quarter and a new bridge across the Columbia River.

Beyer, who isn’t seeking reelection, says he heard the opposition was coming.

He says he finds the environmentalists’ position “frustrating” because he either wrote or shepherded through the Senate most of the major environmental bills of the past 12 years, including helping shape Oregon’s original renewable energy standard in 2007; the 2016 “coal to clean” bill, climate legislation (derailed by GOP walkouts), and an updated recycling law in 2021.

Beyer also notes that the 2017 transportation bill that included funding for the Rose Quarter expansion environmentalists hate included record spending on transit and bicycle infrastructure.

He says he hopes Brown will stick with his appointment because after 30 years of working on transportation and environmental issues in Salem, he feels he has a lot to add to the OTC, including making sure the $5.3 billion appropriated by the transportation bill he helped write is spent properly.

“I have a lot of ownership in seeing that what we passed in 2017 will get done,” Beyer says.

Beyer’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate during legislative days later this month.

Brown’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Merah, said in a statement that the goveernor is sticking with Beyer.

“In making this appointment to the Oregon Transportation Commission, Gov. Brown was looking for a strong leader with experience in transportation, in developing policy in complex issue areas, and with a wide variety of stakeholder engagement—and that’s what she found in Sen. Beyer,” Merah said. “The senator has more than 20 years of leadership experience in the Oregon Legislature, including chairing transportation-related committees since 2011, and he has been a leader in transportation, environment, and energy policy conversations his entire career.”