Why are Oregon taxpayers funding a timber industry propaganda agency?

  • Published on August 11th, 2020

Earlier this year, we wrote about the GOP in Oregon palling around with Q-Anon conspiracy theorists and a racist militia to sabotage climate policy, with a pro-Timber group serving as the friendly face. At the time, it was perhaps curious that “Timber Unity” would be such a central part of anti-climate efforts, given the central role fossil fuel groups tend to play in such scenarios.

conservation in one place can lead to more damage in another.

By Climate Denier Roundup

But thanks to an incredible new investigation published by ProPublica, it makes a lot more sense. Because for decades now, the timber industry has blanketed the state with pro-logging propaganda, and the worst part is that taxpayers are footing the bill.

The investigation, by Rob Davis of The Oregonian/OregonLive and Tony Schick of Oregon Public Broadcasting, uncovered thousands of emails that demonstrate how the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) has flaunted rules against influencing policy with, among many other tactics, the sort of harassment long used by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries to dispute scientific realities. (For example, at one point an executive defended attacking a study as wanting to make sure the governor’s carbon policy was based on “sound information,” mirroring the tobacco and fossil fuel industry’s “sound science” propaganda.)

At the request of timber industry executives in the early 90’s facing negative publicity from environmental protests of clearcutting old growth forests and other issues, OFRI was created by the Oregon Legislature to counteract environmentalists’ efforts and convince Oregon’s residents about the benefits of logging.

An executive testified in ‘91 that to “those who have asked, ‘Why should the state sanction a propaganda machine for the forest industries?’” he would answer that “the people of Oregon are too sophisticated to be fooled by propaganda and, frankly, people like me who will pay for this program would not stand for it.”

So the people should pay for propaganda, but only if it’s sophisticated enough that the public doesn’t recognize it as such. And that’s what’s happened.

Oregon taxpayers spend $4 million a year on the institute’s TV, digital and radio ad campaigns, classroom materials and other reports. One would hope, then, that the content it creates is independent of any bias from the industry. Nope!

There are 11 voting board seats that control the institute. Nine are controlled by the timber industry. One is reserved for small forest landowners, and the last for a representative for timber workers. It only allows one member from the public on the board, they can’t be affiliated with an environmental group, and they don’t even get a vote anyway. Even still, according to Davis and Schick, “the position has been vacant for all but a month since the January 2019 resignation of Chris Edwards, a former state senator who became a lobbyist for the timber industry.”

Okay, so it’s a taxpayer-funded institute controlled by the timber industry that spends millions of dollars a year on “educating” the state about the wonders of the wood products it sells. At least the law made it illegal for it to try and influence policy, right?

Yes! It did! Unfortunately, OFRI appears to have simply ignored that part of the law. The investigation showed that, time and again, OFRI spent its time and money seeking to influence policies that would hurt (or help) the timber industry. The investigation details how they organized to oppose a ballot measure, got sneak peeks of political ads, and even helped coordinate a lobby day for the timber industry, then were careful to hide their involvement from the public.

It is unabashedly an arm of the logging industry. In one email to a potential new recruit to lead the organization, a top executive explained that since 75 to 80 percent of the institute’s funding was from the timber industry, “You can’t get too far ahead of those who pay the majority of the tax… at least not if you want to stay employed.”

In another example of the extent to which the institute sees itself as being in the service of private timber interests, products director Timm Locke emailed about the need for a rapid response effort to discredit a study, specifically “so that it doesn’t drive early attempts at the state level to develop carbon policy.” Though (technically) a public employee, Locke told a timber lobbyist that he’d help with the counterargument, to make it something “those of us in the industry can use.”

Even they don’t consider themselves distinct from the industry.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

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