A bill requiring Oregon government agencies to protect against “rollbacks” of federal environmental regulations has been dismissed as “political theater” by farm, ranch and timber organizations.
Under House Bill 2250, state natural resource agencies would have to monitor whether changes to federal air and water regulations have fallen short of standards enacted under the Obama administration.
The Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies would then recommend or take actions to ensure that Oregon’s environmental rules maintain or exceed the federal protections before the Trump administration took office.
“Oregon’s clean air and water are part of what makes our state a great place to live, work, and play. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has relentlessly attacked environmental safeguards that keep our communities healthy and vibrant,” said Gov. Kate Brown during a Feb. 5 legislative hearing.
A coalition of 18 groups representing agriculture, forestry and business interests is urging the House Committee on Energy and the Environment against recommending the bill for approval, criticizing the proposal for being unnecessary rather than for regulatory overreach.
“For us, we see this as a resource drain on agencies that are already very behind on meeting a lot of their key metrics,” said Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
Without an act of Congress, Oregon’s government cannot change the federal pre-emptive authority of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Water Drinking Act, which are the focus of HB 2250, she said.
Oregon’s environmental statutes also don’t neatly align with their federal counterparts, as they contain different exemptions and triggers for enforcement, Cooper said. “I’m not sure how they would even undertake an analysis if something is a rollback or a significant change when our laws don’t fully line up.”
State agencies should focus on their core mission while lawmakers should develop laws that benefit Oregon irrespective of what goes on at the federal level, she said. “Oregon’s laws should be driven by science, not politics or who’s in office at any given point.”
Oregon’s natural resource agencies are already governed by statutory mandates that are broad enough that many changes could be enacted administratively, rather than by passing new state laws, Cooper later told the Capital Press.
The concern about HB 2250 is that it’s largely a political statement about the Oregon government’s disapproval of the federal administration’s policies — which everyone already knows — but it could further strain agencies that struggle to fulfill their main functions, she said.
During the legislative hearing, DEQ’s director, Richard Whitman, acknowledged that HB 2250 wouldn’t endow the state’s Environmental Quality Commission with any additional power, so any actions would be taken under its existing authority.
Jason Miner, Brown’s natural resources policy manager, said the bill is intended to keep state agencies vigilant for changes affecting environmental protections.
“It’s not new authority but it is new information,” Miner said.