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Eugene Weekly : Feature : 1.27.11



Bills, Bills, Bills

Whats green on Oregons legislative agenda?

By Camilla Mortensen

In a wonky way, Oregons 2011 legislative session will be exciting when it resumes on Feb. 1. Oregon has a $3.5 billion deficit, unemployment is still more than 10 percent, more than 1,600 bills have been introduced, the Oregon House is 30 Republicans and 30 Democrats, an even split, and everybodys got an agenda, some greener than others.

Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli has a dog agenda. Hes introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, which would designate the border collie the state dog. Eleven other states do have state dogs. Our neighbor to the north, Washington, designated an official state endemic mammal ‹ the marmot ‹ûin 2009, and here in the Beaver State not only is our state animal, obviously, the beaver, we also have a state rock,ûthe thunder egg,ûand a state tree, the Douglas fir.û

But when not deciding really important things like whether border collies are more symbolic of Oregon than, say, Labradors (which at least have webbed feet) Oregons Legislature will be voting on issues that affect not only our economy, jobs and whose dog is the coolest but the environment as well.

EW checked in with eco-oriented groups, locally and around the state, to find out what their priorities are for this years session, the first since Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 71, requiring the Legislature to meet annually instead of every two years. Priorities run the gamut from ridding the ocean of plastic bags to making sure cougars arent hunted with hounds.

 

Top green billing

Each year, more than 50 environmental groups in Oregon coordinate their top priorities for bills in the Legislature. Jon Isaacs, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, says this øforces the entire community to really prioritize and say, *these are the things that all of us agree are really important." OLCV, through its Education Fund, sponsors and facilitates this group of dues-paying organizations, called the Oregon Conservation Network. The goals reflect a diverse coalition of members from the Surfrider Foundation to various Riverkeeper groups to smaller groups like Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA) based in Eugene. OLCV then lobbies based on these priorities, Isaacs says, though the individual groups may still work on their own causes, even if they didnt make it to the top of the list.

Just because an issue doesnt get top billing doesnt mean it wont go through. Two issues that Lisa Arkin and OTA have worked on ‹ûthe ban on field burning and integrated pesticide management in schools, a technique of pest-and-weed control that leads to lower toxic chemical usage ‹ were not on OLCVs list in the past, though they were passed into law. Isaacs says after field burning passed in 2009, the network put a process allowing important new priorities to be added to the list that might come up over the course of the session.

Arkin says that this year OTA is hoping HB 2188, the øsafe public places" bill, will expand integrated pest management beyond schools to public places such as state forests, public parks, public buildings and grounds, as well as land and rivers adjacent to public highways.

This year the top priorities for OLCV are banning plastic bags, updating Oregons bottle bill, banning Bisphenol-A from kids food and drink containers, improving energy efficiency and establishing a system of marine reserves as well as state forest reserves.û

A quick check with Lane County area legislators didnt yield much in the way of results when it comes to eco bills, at least not yet. Sen. Chris Edwards was out of the country, and several legislators didnt respond to an email inquiry before press time. But local politicians have come through in the past on bills such as banning field burning and pesticide management, and OLCV has given them high ratings on Project Vote Smart for their environmental positions. Reps. Paul Holvey, Nancy Nathanson and Phil Barnhart earned 90s out of 100 points. Sen. Floyd Prozanski got a 79 and Sen. Edwards earned an 86. (Sen. Ferrioli, the border collie guy, got a 10).û

Reps. Nancy Nathanson and Phil Barnhart have introduced bills related to public transportation, a green goal.

Nathanson’s office says her top priority is improving Oregon’s rail system for both passenger and freight lines. Prozanski says he introduced Senate Joint Resolution 17, at the request of Tom Bowerman, which proposes an amendment to the Oregon Constitution that would allow money from taxes on fuel, and on owning, operating or using motor vehicles to be used for public transportation services. The amendment would be referred to voters for approval or rejection at next regular general election.

In the 2009 session, Attorney General John Kroger made strides for the environment when the Legislature passed a bill allowing him to create an environmental crimes unit from existing funds in order to crack down on polluters. This year, Tony Green, the AGs communications director says there is ønothing new" legislatively from the office on environment issues.û

 

Bags and bottles

The ban on plastic bags has been erroneously pitched as øbad for business," says Brock Howell, former policy advocate for Environment Oregon. An organizer for the Great Pacific Cleanup, he says plastic bags are an ocean problem and are the number one item found in beach cleanups. But despite that pitch by groups like Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, Howell says, so far more than 500 small businesses have endorsed the campaign; so have the Northwest Grocers Association, Fred Meyer and paper-bag maker International Paper. Commissioners Pete Sorenson and Rob Handy and Mayor Kitty Piercy have endorsed it also, along with businesses such as Kiva.û

Howell says the bill would not stop shoppers from bringing their own plastic bags if they wanted to and would call on stores to use and charge 5 cents for recycled content paper bags. SB 536 also would stop local governments from imposing charges on checkout bags or other bags provided to customers.û

Howell also points out that a recent headline-making announcement from OSU scientist Angel White critiquing exaggerations of the Pacific Garbage Patch doesnt detract from the message of how bad plastic is for the oceans and marine life. White says the debris may act as a vector for introducing invasive species into sensitive habitats and that it is extremely costly to remove. An unknown amount of plastic sinks to the ocean floor as well.

Oregons Bottle Bill had dramatic results when it first passed in 1971, with beverage bottle litter dropping by 83 percent in just a few years. In 2007 the bill was updated to include water bottles, including flavored water such as vitaminwater, though sports drinks and teas were not included either in the 70s or in the 2007 update. Environment Oregon would like to see the bill include newer drinks and increase the bottle and can deposit to 10 cents.û

The group would also like to see retailers use the unclaimed deposits on bottles, which theyve been holding on to and not disclosing, to make the bottle program more efficient. Environment Oregon estimates that about $30ûmillion to $40 million in deposits stay with the retailers each year due to unredeemed bottles.

Another would-be bottle bill on the OLCV agenda is aimed at baby bottles, sippy cups and other food and beverage containers used by infants. OLCV says that Bisphenol-A (BPA) disrupts childrens brain development and is linked to chronic health problems, such as diabetes and breast cancer.û

The BPA-Free Baby Bill, which has yet to be introduced in the Legislature, would also ban using the chemical in sports water containers and require cans containing BPA to say so on the containers.û

Isaacs says Sen. Jackie Dingfelder of Portland will be sponsoring the BPA bill. Dingfelder is also the sponsor of a bill that would require genetically modified fish and shellfish to be labeled as such, and an energy bill, SB 164, which would create a state energy commission made up of five citizens appointed by the governor to establish statewide policy and priorities.

 

Reserves

Also on the list of top priorities for enviros in the upcoming session is the goal of creating both new marine reserves and establishing state forest reserves.û

The 2009 legislative session passed a marine reserves bill that created two pilot sites along with four sites for future study. Proponents say these reserves support marine habitat, yielding more fish and seafood for the economies that depend on them. OSU studies have shown that reserves allow fish to grow larger and result also in more fish in areas surrounding the reserve. Isaacs says there are recommendations from stakeholders, scientists and fishing representatives to create more reserves in this session.

Ivan Maluski of the Oregon Sierra Club says the group hopes to spearhead the øfirst-ever protected forest reserves on state lands." Rep. Deborah Boone has introduced HB 2736, a bill that Maluski says he hopes by the end of the session øwill have created a new mechanism to protect special places on state lands like the Tillamook, Clatsop and Elliott state forests for clean water, recreation, fish and wildlife, and carbon sequestration."

Cascadia Wildlands has been angling for several years to preserve Coast Range old-growth trees in the Elliott State Forest. The Eugene-based group has been proposing the state look into the benefits the trees provide, rather than what the groups campaign director, Josh Laughlin, calls øclearcuts for kids," because the forest is part of Common School Fund lands. The Elliott State Forest borders on the popular proposed Devils Staircase Wilderness area and is home to threatened and endangered species such as marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls.û

 

Energy efficiency

Although newly elected Gov. Kitzhabers office had made clear that its first priorities are jobs and the economy, green groups and the governor do agree on one priority that affects jobs, the economy and the environment: energy efficiency.û

Four bills have been introduced, OLCV says, that cut energy costs in Oregons public schools, require utilities to prioritize conservation over generation, create an efficiency rating system for buildings and make it easier to create high-performance buildings.

ûøWere going to be working hard to support the governors plan for energy efficient schools and his plan to catalyze the energy efficient upgrades on public and private buildings," Isaacs says.

The goal is funding the upgrading of public schools so that they are completely energy independent and retrofitted to be energy efficient, Isaacs says, adding that this saves taxpayer money. Studies show that students do better when the air is cleaner, classrooms are better lit and the temperature is consistent. Despite budget issues currently troubling schools, the plan is that the energy savings would pay in the end for the costs of the changes.

One part of Kitzhabers plan that may raise hackles in Eugene ‹ where the Seneca biomass-burning cogeneration plant construction has led to concerns about local air quality ‹ is to convert coal-burning heating systems in schools to biomass boilers. Kitzhabers office has been advocating for federal rules favoring the burning of woody biomass for energy production. Opponents have concerns not only over public health issues regarding burning biomass, but also over whether the demand for woody biomass could result in using whole trees for fuel rather than logging slash and other organic debris.

 

Predatory bills

For every pro-environment bill introduced, theres at least one causing conservationists some pain and angst. Malusksi of the Sierra Club says, øDeclaring biomass to be carbon neutral or exempting it from greenhouse gas reporting rules," could be potentially one such bad bill.

ûøI think one top priority on the environment this year will be to hold the line and prevent rollbacks to existing environmental rules," he says. Maluski points out that with a 30-30 split in the House, øand that body operating under the *rule of 31 that allows any group of 31 legislators to bring bills to the floor for a vote, we will inevitably see some bad environmental bills pass the House."

Predators, including wolves and cougars, could be in the crosshairs of this legislative session, according to several groups contacted by EW. Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands says, øWe are hearing that special interests will be introducing bills to make it easier to kill federally and state-listed wolves in Oregon, which are just beginning to recover after a systematic eradication program over 60 years ago." He adds, øWolves are the icon of freedom, and we are all into freedom, right?"

Sean Stevens of Oregon Wild says that the Oregon Cattlemans Association has vowed to bring as many as four bills before the Legislature that would change the way wolves are managed in Oregon. øAs far as I know they havent been released yet," Stevens says, but he adds that OCA wants to change the language in Oregons plan øto remove professional wildlife managers from the equation and allow private citizens to shoot wolves almost free of restrictions." According to Stevens there are currently only 22 wolves in Oregon.û

Sally Mackler, carnivore representative for Eugene-based Predator Defense, says two bills have been introduced to repeal Measure 18, the citizens initiative that banned hound and bait hunting of bear and cougar. HB 2337 would create a pilot program allowing counties to implement the hound hunting of cougars if they request it. SB 474 would apply to hunting zones where cougar quotas havent been met, and it would giveû hunters the right to use dogs to chase cougars during the last three months of the season.

Mackler says that the most up-to-date science shows increasing cougar hunting and killing leads to increased conflict with people. The bills ignore science in favor of politics, she says.

With clean water and water rights so recently an issue in Eugene ‹ûthe City Council voted unanimously on Jan. 24 to approve a resolution allowing EWEB to sell up to 3 million gallons of water a day to Veneta ‹ûits not surprising that that conservationists are watching some bills that revolve around water issues. Kimberley Priestley of WaterWatch of Oregon says it will be of critical importance to protect existing river protections and adequately fund the Water Resources Department. The WRD manages Oregons existing 85,000 water rights and continues to grant more. Priestley says the agency is already understaffed.û

Among the bills WaterWatch is monitoring is SB 190, which seeks to reserve 30 million-acre feet of Columbia River water for øconsumptive use" for things like irrigation and power development. Kitzhabers office has indicated support for the bill, but Priestley says it could undermine or eliminate protections for Columbia and Snake River fish. She also says the bill skirts existing water allocation statutes and resource protection rules.

With well over 1,000 bills already introduced ‹ and more to come on topics from border collies to establishing an official state øwild west show" to a proposal to designate hatchery fish as ønative" if they were born in Oregon to an Oregon species ‹ conservationists, politicians and pundits are laying out agendas and seeing what rises to the top.û