BOISE, Idaho – In Idaho and Washington, legislative sessions are just getting under way. In Oregon, lawmakers will meet next month.
Here in the Northwest, state legislatures will be asked to vote on several environmental issues. Oregon lawmakers will look at expanding marine reserves off the coast. The Washington Legislature is considering a ban on cancer-causing agents in children’s products. In Boise, state lawmakers will pursue a land swap with the federal government to expand logging in northern Idaho.
Tight state budgets and time limits on how long lawmakers can work to pass bills will be factors for any environmental issues this year.
Doug Moore is the executive director of Oregon’s League of Conservation Voters. He described three efforts his group and others in the Oregon Conservation Network will focus on once Oregon’s legislature begins in February.
The first is to advocate for the addition of three more sites to the two marine reserves established in 2009. Moore says “it’s not going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to create these marine reserves. What it’s really doing is setting them aside to ensure that we have them for the long term.”
Moore and his conservation group will also pressure lawmakers to protect the Department of Environmental Quality budget from any further cuts. He says making reductions, such as trimming the number of water-quality monitors who ensure the health of the Willamette River, would be counter-productive to efforts to move the state back to economic prosperity.
“No one wants to come to a location where you can’t drink the water,” he says. “We’re blessed here with tremendous natural beauty. The heritage of the state is fantastic and we should be looking to preserve that and protect that.”
Moore also says green energy advocates will be watching for any efforts to scale back on the 2007 Renewable Energy Standard. It requires that, by 2025, Oregon’s biggest utilities must provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources, including wind and solar.
In Washington, a bill regarding the permitting and construction of small renewable energy facilities is back on the table this year. House Bill 1081 allows the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to permit small alternative energy resource facilities. It also give the Council the legal ability to enter into agreements with local governments.
The “Toxic Free Kids Act” seeks to ban a suspected cancer-causing material from being used as a flame retardant in kids products.
Conservation groups will also be on guard to oppose any efforts to scale-back Washington’s environmental regulations as an effort to save money or create jobs. Washington has an energy plan similar to Oregon’s that has some criticism over the potential of raising utility costs to the lowest-income families.
Idaho’s House and Senate leaders predict several wolf bills will be taken up this year. Sen. Monty Pearce told the Idaho Environmental Forum he expects to hear more information this year from the U.S. Forest Service and a private company over a land exchange deal.
House Resources and Conservation Committee chairman John Stevenson says budget constraints could force some tough decisions before the session ends. Stevenson says smaller agencies and departments often face cuts because lawmakers put priorities on the biggest of agencies like education.
Stevenson’s House Resources Committee took up the new state oil and gas regulations this week. They passed the committee with only one state representative voting no. The senate is expected to pick up the oil and gas regulations next week.
Congrats to David James for his winning submission, 'Annabella smelling the Balsam.'
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