The Oregon Senate has confirmed a climate policy attorney to serve on the state’s Environmental Quality Commission over the objections of farm and industry groups.
Amy Schlusser is the staff attorney for the Green Energy Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for carbon-free energy within the Lewis & Clark Law School. The Senate voted 16-9 to confirm her as an EQC member during a floor vote on Nov. 17.
The Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and Oregon Dairy Farmers Association were joined by agribusiness, timber and trucking groups in opposing Schlusser’s nomination to EQC, which enacts regulations for air emissions and water quality, among other environmental issues.
The organizations claimed that Schlusser would face a “uniquely difficult conundrum” because her employer pushes for policy changes at EQC, which would “undermine public trust” in the decision-making body.
Schlusser’s supporters countered that it’s hardly unusual for lawyers with expertise in certain fields to serve in such a rule-making capacity.
“It would be an unfortunate lesson today that licensed attorneys should not serve on boards and commissions where they have subject matter knowledge,” said Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego.
Schlusser said she doesn’t work as a lobbyist and isn’t beholden to any special interest groups, but would nonetheless recuse herself from any decisions affecting her employer.
“I don’t have any conflicts of interest under Oregon’s ethics laws or rules of professional conduct that would impede my ability to ethically serve on the EQC or to make objective, independent decisions as an EQC member,” she said during a recent legislative hearing.
Two ethics specialists with the Oregon State Bar, which regulates the legal profession, said there was no prohibition against Schlusser serving on the commission, she said.
However, critics in the Senate argued there are reasons to doubt Schlusser would be unbiased in her decisions regardless of the legal considerations involving her employer.
“While many of you believe she can be appointed, the question is should she be appointed?” said Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. “In this case, there is good reason for hesitation.”
Johnson said she would vote against confirming Schlusser because an attorney shouldn’t be voting on policies that her advocacy organization wants to affect.
“I do not believe Ms. Schlusser can be a fair or impartial voice at EQC,” she said.
Another concern mentioned on the Senate floor was that Schlusser would replace Wade Mosby, a retired forest products executive, affecting the balance of viewpoints on the EQC.
“It is clear to me she will not be a moderate member of the EQC,” said Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale.
Findley also argued that the Senate should not simply act as a “rubber stamp” for nominations from Gov. Kate Brown. The interests of Central and Eastern Oregon are under-represented on the state’s boards and commissions, he said.
“The EQC needs more representation from rural Oregon, not less,” Findley said.