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Oregon Legislature considers environmental protection bills

New laws would boost protection for bees, clean air and clean water

Air quality concerns — after revelations about Portland’s glass factories — bee die-offs and longtime worries about the dangers of aerial sprays, are hopefully being addressed via bills introduced into Oregon’s Legislature this session. 

Lisa Arkin of Eugene-based Beyond Toxics says House Bill 2669, the Community Toxics Reporting Act, would make it possible for cities and counties across Oregon to have programs similar to Eugene’s Toxics Right-to-Know law. The law lets Eugene collect and publicize data on air and water pollution.

If Portland had a Right-to-Know law like Eugene’s, Arkin says, then the city’s population might have found out much earlier about the release of the cadmium and arsenic from art glass factories that made headlines last year. 

She calls the matter an environmental justice issue and says that the bill would cover more than 1,500 chemicals, which is much more extensive that the 52 chemicals the Department of Environmental Quality currently tracks. Detailed and accurate toxic pollution data can be used to map toxics hot spots, Arkin says, many of which are near low-income communities. And data reporting helps people stay informed about possible public health risks, such as the release of heavy metals from the Portland glass factories.

Arkin also points to the case of Hollingsworth & Vose, a glass fiber plant near a residential neighborhood in south Corvallis. It operated for almost 20 years under the wrong class of an air pollution permit before the DEQ determined it was exceeding its allowed levels of fluoride and carbon monoxide emissions. 

Another right-to-know bill is Senate Bill 892, which would require advanced notice for aerial sprays of pesticides and prompt reporting of what pesticides were used. “It’s time for communities to know what toxins and poisons are being thrown at them,” Arkin says. 

SB 892 would require forestry land owners or operators to give seven days notice on the Forest Activity Electronic Reporting and Notification System (FERNS), managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry, of aerial sprays and say what chemicals were actually sprayed within five days of the application. Right now aerial spray applicators do not have to notify residents, schools, health care facilities or communities before spraying chemicals on nearby forestland, Arkin says.

Also on the legislative agenda is SB 499, which “creates exceptions to limitation on liability for certain farming and forest practices for actions for serious harm to human health and loss of use of residential property or domestic drinking water.” In other words, the bill would amend ORS 30.936, Oregon’s “Right to Farm and Forest” law, to give people recourse if farming or forest practices cause the loss of use of residential property or domestic drinking water.

For example, if a chemical spray were to affect the water a family drinks, the family would have little remedy because the current Right to Farm and Forest law says a person must prove death or serious physical injury, such as a loss of a limb, to seek damages from pesticide exposure harm.

Also addressing pesticides is SB 929, a bee protection bill that would require Oregon’s Department of Agriculture to classify neonicotinoids as restricted-use pesticides. “We would be the second state in the nation to restrict consumer use,” Arkin says. Oregon banned neonics on all tilia (linden tree) species after several massive bee die-offs. And, she says, the state bumped up its applicator education program, but this means, “You are educating your applicators but not Ma and Pa Jones running to Bi-Mart” to buy pesticides. 

A hearing is scheduled on the bill March 27, Arkin says.

Sen. James Manning is a cosponsor of the bill, and he thinks it’s a good bill. “So far I haven’t had anybody come to me in opposition,” he says. “It sends a good message and help protect our farmers” whose crops might be affected by pollinator die-offs, the senator adds.