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Oregon Pushes Back On Trump Environmental Policy In Bill Headed To Governor

A bill directing Oregon agencies to sidestep federal environmental rollbacks has cleared the Legislature, and is headed to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown.

House Bill 2250, known as the Oregon Environmental Protection Act, passed the Senate on Tuesday in a 16-12 vote that largely stuck to party lines. Brown, who first suggested the idea in the midst of a reelection fight last year, has championed the bill and is likely to sign it.

The legislation seeks to undo changes under President Donald Trump that have weakened federal environmental protections. Once in place, it would require the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Health Authority to assess final changes to three federal policies: the Clean Air Act, Water Pollution Control Act and Safe Drinking Water Act.

In cases where the agencies determined changes were “significantly less protective” to public health or the environment than regulations in place Jan. 19, 2017 — the day before Trump took office — they would be required to preserve the higher standard at minimum.

“Since 2017, we have seen a lowering of standards in the [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies,” Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said before Tuesday’s vote. “This is an important bill to preserve and protect public and environmental health.”

The bill cleared Dembrow’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee last week, when the committee’s two Republicans were out of the building due to a boycott. It would have passed regardless of whether they had been on hand to vote against it.

Both Republican senators spoke against the bill Tuesday, arguing it mandated blind adherence to rules in place before Trump was in office.

“That date is not the date for the end-all-be-all most wonderful federal standards in the history of the world," said Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario. “No, that date has to do with the end of one political administration and the beginning of another.”

Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, largely echoed the concerns, adding the bill included too much subjective judgment on the part of state regulators.

But Dembrow contended that the date before Trump’s inauguration “coincides with the beginning of a process of rollbacks to what was considered the scientific consensus of rigor.”

HB 2250 had been targeted by some business and farm interests, which felt that the DEQ and OHA would be unduly burdened by having to assess federal rules. But it passed with the support of Brown, who helped convince the governors of California, Washington, Colorado and Hawaii to also pledge to work against federal environmental rollbacks.

According to The New York Times, the Trump administration had taken action to eliminate nearly 80 environmental regulations by the end of 2018.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.