Critics and proponents agree that recently passed legislation intended to shield Oregon from federal “rollbacks” of environmental regulations is meant to send a message.
While supporters claim House Bill 2250 signifies the state government’s stand against weakening protections for air, soil and water at the federal level, opponents argue it amounts to an expensive but empty political stunt.
The bill was approved by the state Senate 16-12 on Tuesday after passing the House two months earlier. State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, voted against the bill.
It’s all but assured of being signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown, who requested the legislation’s introduction.
Under House Bill 2250, the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Environmental Quality can take or recommend actions to ensure “significantly less protective” federal environmental standards don’t undermine protections at the state level.
The status of federal regulations on Jan. 19, 2017 — the day before President Donald Trump took office — will serve as the baseline for comparison.
State Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, complained that HB 2250 basically enshrines federal regulations before change in political administrations rather than at a high point in environmental safeguards.
“Why should we do such a thing? Frankly, I kind of enjoy having a state make its rules, not the federal government,” he said during the floor debate. “I don’t want to be assuming that as of that particular date everything was great, but that is what this bill does.”
Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, acknowledged the date was “not accidental.”
“It coincides with the beginning of a process of rollbacks to what was considered the scientific consensus of rigor that began at that time and that is continuing, frankly,” he said.
Critics of HB 2250 also argued the bill will leave Oregon agencies exposed to lawsuits from environmentalists who don’t believe revisions to state regulations sufficiently compensate for the reduced protections of federal standards.
State agencies already struggle to keep up with their existing duties and HB 2250 will only add to that burden by requiring them to monitor federal regulations, according to opponents.
Another question raised about the bill was its uncertain effect on applications for environmental permits from the state government that are partly based on federal standards.
Dembrow said this was a “fair question” that wasn’t considered during hearings on the bill, prompting Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, to request that HB 2250 be sent back to the committee level for reconsideration.
The Senate rejected that motion 11-16 and then voted in favor of the bill, largely on party lines.