2018 Oregon Legislative Recap

The Oregon State Capitol – June 2017

The Oregon Legislature adjourned its one month ‘short session’ on Saturday, March 3. Because of the fast pace and short duration, there were fewer bills to track than in the longer six-month sessions that occur in odd numbered years. But Friends of Family Farmers nonetheless weighed in on a few key pieces of legislation.

Here are a few highlights on farm related legislation from the 2018 session we were tracking.

Climate Bills Get Hearings, but Tabled Until 2019

Setting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources may not seem like an issue directly impacting farms, but two ‘Clean Energy Jobs’ bills were the biggest pieces of farm-related legislation of the session. Also referred to as ‘cap and invest,’ these bills – SB 1507 and HB 4001 – would have set a ‘cap,’ and a price, on greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial sources. The revenues generated from this would be used to ‘invest’ in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate renewable energy, and help communities adapt to climate change.

In the months leading up to the session, Friends of Family Farmers encouraged legislators to add provisions that would explicitly support climate friendly practices on small and mid-sized farms in Oregon. Farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of climate change, directly impacted by extreme weather events, a warming climate, and dwindling water supplies. But as land managers, we can also be part of the solution.

Well managed rotational grazing on pasture and the use of cover crops can sequester carbon in soils.

There are many practices on farms and ranches that can help address climate change by sequestering carbon in soils: planting cover crops, restoring pasture and natural areas, organic soil building, lowering soil disturbance through reduced tillage, rotational grazing, and more. But in the past, some types of ‘cap and trade’ approaches have tended to encourage a small number of practices on bigger operations – for example manure digesters on very large dairies. Funds from these types of programs have not always been made available for a wider array of climate friendly practices on smaller and mid-sized farms and ranches. How the program is set up is critically important, and FoFF raised these types of issues for legislators to consider before the session even began.

Ultimately, the two bills that were introduced went a long way towards addressing the issues we had raised before the session. In particular, the bills would have created a Climate Investment Fund, a significant new source of money to support agricultural practices that sequester carbon in soils, protect working and natural lands on farms and ranches, and promote irrigation efficiency. Rural Oregon would have seen a significant percentage of the revenue generated under the program, and agriculture would be exempt from the emissions cap.

As a result, Friends of Family Farmers testified in support of the bills, while highlighting a few areas where we felt the legislation could be significantly stronger. You can read our February 22 testimony to the House Rules Committee in support of the legislation here.

While generally supportive of the overall legislation, our suggested amendments included: 1) adding a small or organic farm seat to the Program Advisory Committee charged in the bill with developing many of the program rules; 2) explicitly naming specific farming practices known to build healthy soils to the list of practices supported by the Climate Investment Fund; and, 3) closing a loophole that would allow a handful of the largest dairies in Oregon (those with over approximately 10,000 cows) to be exempt from the greenhouse gas emissions cap and reporting reporting requirements. A small number of extremely large dairies in Oregon are responsible for a significant share of the state’s methane emissions, rivaling the greenhouse gas output of some of Oregon’s largest industrial sources. Oregon should not allow the growing number of ‘mega-dairies’ moving into our state to be exempt from the emissions cap.

Result and Next Steps: While hearings were held on both SB 1507 and HB 4001, and they each passed out of their initial committees, both bills died upon adjournment and did not receive a vote in the full House or Senate.

However, in an end of session budget bill, legislators included $1.4 million for new Oregon Carbon Policy office to further develop the ‘cap and invest’ concept for the 2019 legislative session, and legislative leaders announced the formation of a new ‘carbon reduction’ committee to vet policy proposals between now and 2019.

House Speaker, Tina Kotek said in and end-of-session press release that the new Carbon Policy Office was funded “to study the economic impact of a cap-and-invest program, understand any impacts on traded sector industries, and examine ways to utilize Oregon’s forests and fields to sequester and store carbon.” Senate President Peter Courtney said that “the Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction will study ways Oregon can control and reduce its carbon emissions.” Legislation will likely be developed by this committee for action in 2019, and Friends of Family Farmers will continue to be engaged in this process.

Land Use Bad Ideas Stopped

It has become like clockwork that whenever the state Legislature meets, bad land use bills emerge as threats that must be addressed. These bills often create exemptions from land use rules in order to speed a particular type of development or to address local political pressures over how farmland protections are being implemented.

This session, the worst of these bad land use ideas were stopped, but if the past is prologue, they will emerge again in 2019.

Failed land use bad ideas from 2018:

SB 1502 – a bill to effectively eliminate land use rules in 15 of the 18 counties east of the Cascades. This legislation would have allowed commercial or industrial development on agricultural lands outside of urban growth boundaries in many areas east of the Cascades. Introduced by key Senate leaders including Senate President Peter Courtney, the bill was dead on arrival and did not even receive a public hearing.

HB 4075 – This bill would have rezoned 1700 acres of exclusive farm use (EFU) land in Washington County from rural reserve to urban reserve, thus opening it for future development. The areas impacted include some of the best farmland in the region, and this bill would have overturned a major land use compromise from a few years earlier intended to keep these lands rural. The bill did receive a public hearing, but died swiftly early in the session.

-7 Amendment to HB 4060 – The ‘dash 7’ amendment to a transportation bill would have dramatically reduced the ability of local communities to stop new aggregate (gravel) mines proposed in agricultural areas. Many farming areas in the Willamette Valley, particularly those near river bottoms, are at potential risk from proposals to mine aggregate. Aside from the direct loss of farmland from the mining itself, neighboring farms can be harmed by mining-related impacts to water quantity, water quality, dust falling on sensitive crops, and other issues. Thankfully, this amendment did not advance. You can read FoFF’s testimony in opposition to the -7 amendment to HB 4060 here.