Bills to protect environment derailed by finances

Bills to protect environment derailed by finances

By Beth Casper and Stefanie Knowlton
Statesman Journal
June 15, 2009

Only a few proposals make it out of committee


Even with a Democratic majority and support from the governor, environmental legislation this session couldn’t contend with the state’s economic woes.

A carbon cap-and-trade bill, Senate Bill 80, the core of the governor’s climate-change legislation, has been amended so many times that the original backers are urging legislators to abandon it.

Most of the rest of the climate change and clean energy bills died in committee.

“There were really high hopes” at the beginning of the session, said Jake Weigler, the campaign director for the Healthy Climate Partnership. “The governor made climate one of his chief priorities, and this session was going to be the culmination of his work over the last eight years.”

Now instead of pushing a renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction agenda, environmentalists find themselves fighting threats to those initiatives or laws passed in 2007.

House Bill 2940 would weaken the 2007 renewable energy standard, House Bill 2472 would constrain the business energy tax credit that helps to attract green companies to Oregon, and House Bill 3039 would allow more carbon-intensive power under the renewable energy standard.

Climate and clean energy bills weren’t the only ones struggling this session.

Producer responsibility, a big hit in 2007 with the e-waste law, only garnered enough support to move one of the six bills out of committee. House Bill 3037 requires paint manufacturers to create recycling programs. Other bills dealing with prescription drugs, fluorescent light bulbs, rechargeable batteries and a framework to propose additional products died in committee.

But it’s not finished.

“I think in some form or fashion we’ll keep trying to work on product stewardship issues,” said Palmer Mason, a Department of Environmental Quality legislative analyst.

Two bills designed to reduce potentially harmful chemicals in children’s products also died in committee. House Bill 2367 would have banned bisphenol A from children’s products and six phthalates while the companion bill, House Bill 2792, would have given the state the authority to regulate chemicals in children’s products.

Environmental groups also lost ground on the transportation bill, they said, with most of the funding going toward highway improvements instead of investments in mass transportation.

There are still a few bills in place that the environmental community is hoping to salvage — an emergency fund for invasive species, a low-carbon fuel standard, energy efficiency for buildings and ground-breaking water management strategies.

“We are eager for the Legislature to pull a rabbit out of its hat and leave a legacy we are proud of,” said Evan Manvel, the legislative affairs director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Oregon Conservation Network.

Water conservationists have high hopes for two bills aimed at protecting water flows in Oregon’s rivers, streams and ground water in the face of growing demands. House Bill 3369 would create a water management master plan and offer money for water storage projects as long as they included certain water conservation practices. Senate bills 788 and 740 would increase fees to help the state pay for as much as 50 percent of the cost to manage water resources so it’s not as dependent on highs and lows of the general fund.

“The absence of money has made this session very frustrating for all interests,” said John DeVoe with WaterWatch of Oregon.

Expansion of the bottle bill is another major legacy environmentalists hoped to build on this session. House Bill 2184 would have added sport drinks, juice and similar noncarbonated drinks. After two attempts to take a vote on the House floor, the proposed bottle bill was sent to the House revenue committee where it remains. Bills aimed at banning field burning and increasing local foods in schools also are waiting in the house revenue committee.

That’s not to say that no environmental legislation will make it into law this year.

The pesticide-use reporting program was expanded to offer more precise data; all diesel school buses in Oregon will be retrofitted by 2017 to reduce cancer-causing pollution; and those who break environmental laws will face stiffer penalties. Infrastructure to establish marine reserves also likely will pass.

“These are challenging time for the state, Oregonians and the Legislature,” said Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, who has championed environmental bills. “We are in a budget crisis, and that constrains what we are able to do on the environment. Given that context, we’ve done a pretty decent job at moving forward environmental legislation. While not meeting every objective, we still managed to move the state forward in environmental policy.”

Cannon also is not willing to take a final stand on this session’s environmental legacy. He has high hopes for garnering votes for the bottle bill and low-carbon fuel standard.

“I think the jury is still out,” he said about the session. “We have a number of significant bills still in play.”

The bright spot for environmental legislation has been invasive species. Two bills have already been signed by the governor and a conservation community priority — increasing penalties for intentionally introducing potential invasive fish — is at the governor’s office.

And yet, conservationists are fighting hard for House Bill 2020 that would set up a $5 million emergency fund, using lottery dollars, for dealing with invasive species threats.

“What would it look like if that did not pass? It’s really ugly. It’s not like the state is not going to have to pay. If we get zebra and quagga mussels, we have two choices: have the infrastructure in place or call up the e-board and scrape up money we don’t have. … But the bottom line is that it’s not like the state is not going to have to respond.”

Even with all of the reasons to pass House Bill 2020, it looks like environmentalists may have to settle for an emergency fund without funds or with minimal funds.

“The lottery is too oversubscribed as it is,” said Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose.

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