SALEM — Bills impacting hemp, wolves and carbon have won approval from a key Oregon legislative committee but may get a tougher reception from lawmakers who control spending.
The House Agriculture Committee voted in favor of three bills on Feb. 15:
• House Bill 4089, which fixes language in Oregon’s hemp laws to comply with federal requirements permitting research into the crop, which is otherwise considered a controlled substance.
• House Bill 4106, which ties Oregon’s wolf population to the amount of money available to ranchers for livestock depredation and prevention measures, such as range riders.
• House Bill 4109, which requires the Oregon Department of Forestry to study how to encourage the “sequestration” of carbon — for example, by managing forests to absorb and retain the element — as an alternative to penalties for carbon emissions.
Though the committee approved the proposals with a “do pass” recommendation, they must first clear the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which makes budget decisions, before a vote on the House floor.
Bills before the Ways and Means Committee have the advantage of avoiding legislative deadlines that are particularly rushed during this year’s short session.
However, many bills that are referred to the joint committee simply languish until they’re killed by the adjournment of the legislative session — a fate to which the hemp bill succumbed last year.
The carbon sequestration proposal, HB 4109, originally required both the state’s Department of Forestry and the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct the study.
The bill was amended to eliminate DEQ from the requirement, which will reduce the fiscal impact. Even so, that agency would still be able to offer suggestions on the research.
While the bill refers to sequestration as an alternative to capping carbon emissions, which lawmakers are also contemplating, “it should be all of the above,” said Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem.
In a national or global system for reducing carbon emissions, which are blamed for climate change, Oregon should be a “massive winner” because its forests act as “carbon sinks,” said Clem, the committee’s chair.
“We’re sinking carbon for the whole world here,” he said.
Bills to implement a carbon “cap-and-trade” system in Oregon, which is opposed by the agriculture and forestry industries, have also advanced recently.
On Feb. 14, two parallel proposals — House Bill 4001 and Senate Bill 1507 — were cleared by environment-related committees in the House and Senate. They must still pass muster in the Rules Committee of each chamber as well as the Joint Ways and Means Committee.
Under a cap-and-trade system, companies reduce carbon emissions to earn credits that can be sold to other firms that exceed an emissions limit.
While such a system could benefit farmers and foresters who use practices that sequester carbon, critics fear any gains would be more than offset by higher costs for fuel, fertilizer and energy.