OPB looks back at the stories that defined 2016 in Oregon, Southwest Washington and the United States.
When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in mid-February this year, Republicans in Washington, D.C., promptly announced they would not vote on any candidate to fill the vacancy until after the election. Meanwhile, Democrats urged those across the aisle to meet with Merrick Garland, outgoing President Barack Obama’s nominee for the bench.
The ensuing fight over Scalia’s seat symbolized a larger battle playing out in Oregon, Washington state and across the United States in 2016.
While politicians in the nation's capital fought for the right to name a justice on the Supreme Court, various groups fought for their own versions of justice.
The 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a continuation of a longstanding lands battle in rural America. Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy led a group in seizing the federal facility at the start of 2016.
They brought with them national attention to the city of Burns in eastern Oregon. Heavy presence of armed outsiders in town and at the refuge put the town on edge.
Eight months after the final occupier surrendered, a jury ruled the Bundys and five others not guilty. While the verdict sent shockwaves throughout the state, it also breathed new life into the so-called patriot movement. The verdict left other activists — namely those of color — further questioning the fairness of the American justice system.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their father, Cliven, await trial in Nevada for a 2014 standoff there. The result of that case, in which the charges are more severe, is likely to make sizable waves in the land-use debate in the American West amplified by the armed occupation in eastern Oregon.
More On The Occupation In Eastern Oregon
The U.S. presidential election dominated headlines in 2016. The ascendance of real estate mogul Donald J. Trump to the presidency and the messaging he deployed in that rise colored conversations.
Portland was the face of the anti-Trump movement in the week after his election. Large-scale protests in the Rose City attracted international attention. Activists and politicians there are measuring their ability to box out the Trump Administration and his policies.
Bernie Sanders enjoyed immense popularity in Pacific Northwest cities and the end of his candidacy came as saddening news to many. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the general election in Oregon handily, but Trump garnered healthy support as well. A full 41 percent of Oregon voters chose Trump.
The phrase “urban-rural divide” has thus re-entered the fore in Oregon and Washington — further fortified by the Oregon standoff verdict. Trump’s election and the year 2017 have the potential to pop the West Coast’s liberal bubble or further solidify it.
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In June, a Union Pacific oil train derailed near the small city of Mosier, Oregon, sparking a large fire in the Columbia River Gorge. Union Pacific promptly tried to make amends for the crash, but not everyone bought it. The derailment contributed to growing furor among environmentalists over fossil fuel projects.
Wasco County blocked a Union Pacific railway expansion proposal for Mosier. A proposed oil terminal in the Port of Vancouver has been an object of public scrutiny and a liquid natural gas project near Coos Bay was also struck down this year, though the company there plans to try again.
But the most noted fossil fuel fight of 2016 happened in North Dakota. Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline galvanized Native American tribes and environmentalists in the Northwest. Demonstrators feared a portion of the pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota threatened the tribe’s water supply and sacred sites.
Tribes pried a reroute of the pipeline away from the area of concern out of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This came after months of occasionally brutal face offs with law enforcement. Despite the Army’s slight concession and bitter weather, protesters vowed to remain at the encampment near the construction site.
The attention could turn away from Standing Rock and toward the Pacific Northwest in the coming months. Northwest tribes are preparing to fight the Trans-Mountain Expansion Project approved by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
More On Oil Trains And Fossil Fuels
Portland Public Schools and other districts around Oregon faced a water quality battle of their own. Unsafe lead levels forced Oregon’s largest school district to shut off water districtwide and eventually pushed PPS Superintendent Carole Smith to resign.
More districts around the state soon came forward with lead testing data, highlighting a widespread problem with Oregon’s aging plumbing. The lead crisis even struck the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.
Portland also faced another health hazard that went long unchecked: air quality.
A study of tree moss in Portland revealed high levels of arsenic, cadmium, nickel and lead in the air surrounding a pair of Portland glass companies. The toxic air problem even forced Uroboros — one of the glass makers at the center of the controversy — to shut its doors.
More On Lead And Toxic Air
The year 2016 was one of which many celebrated the end. Big news breaks every year, disrupting the relatively normal order of daily life. But 2016 was like a line of dominoes for news — one big story crashing into the other.
In Oregon, 2016 started with the Malheur Refuge takeover, which put an entire county on its toes. An air crisis and a water crisis, an oil train explosion and an eruption of protests followed soon after. A frenetic U.S. presidential election filled all the spaces in between.
In 2017, someone will most likely fill the late Justice Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court, and the U.S. will see how 2016 alters the nation's trajectory.