Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Your Food, Your Legislature: 2018 Session May Be Short on Agreement

The 2018 session of the Oregon Legislature may end up like the vacation we took to France many years—by that I mean decades—ago. I'd studied maps and read guide books, planning what I was sure would be a leisurely road trip through the French countryside, sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés, staying in small inns and meeting charming locals. While it certainly had moments of leisure and charm, it turned out to be a two-week, cross-country marathon of rushing from one pre-arranged reservation to the next.

In other words, I had bitten off more than we could (comfortably) chew.

Do we want our farms to look like this?

That little tale relates to this year's legislative session in the fact that legislators, by law, have just 35 days to convene, conduct and finish their work in Salem. That's because, in 2010, Oregon went from bi-annual sessions to annual sessions, lasting 160-days in odd-numbered years with the shorter sessions in even-numbered years.

These shorter sessions were originally designed so legislators could take care of budget issues that might arise between the longer sessions. But, of course, politicians being politicians, the agenda often strays beyond that boundary. This year is no different.

Originally the session would have dealt with a devastating budget shortfall that would have befallen the state had Measure 101, the Healthcare Insurance Premiums Tax for Medicaid Referendum—a fee on hospitals and insurance companies to fund Medicaid, which provides healthcare coverage to 1 in 4 Oregonians—not passed.

Or like this?

Though Oregon still faces a $200 to $300 million dollar shortfall due to cuts in federal tax laws passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in Washington, DC, legislators have decided to take up a bill they're calling the Clean Energy Jobs bill (Senate bill SB 1507 and a House version, HB 4001). According to an article in the Oregonian, it would create "a limit on greenhouse gas emissions [that] would require many of Oregon's largest polluters to pay for their emissions by purchasing allowances at an auction. The state would spend the proceeds from the auctions to reduce the financial impact to households, support projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help areas disproportionately impacted by climate change."

In other words, a classic cap-and-trade system.

Though House leaders like Speaker Tina Kotek and Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson are working hard to push it forward, Senate leaders, particularly Senate President Peter Courtney, are already backing away from committing to pass a major piece of legislation on such a short timeline.

And how does this affect issues of the state's food system, which you'd expect to read about here?

Like this?

When establishing this cap on greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources, it will create a fund to address the impacts of climate change and support climate-friendly farming practices.

"While the amount of money available is unknown at this stage, the bills have the potential to support a wide range of activities and practices on farms that sequester carbon in soils, reduce energy use, encourage irrigation efficiency, and protect both working land and natural areas on farms and ranches," wrote Friends of Family Farmers Policy Director Ivan Maluski. "Farmers are not only on the front lines of experiencing climate change impacts like extreme weather and uncertain water supplies, as land managers we can also be part of the solution."

Or like this?

Not unexpectedly, industrial representatives are working to alter, if not quash, the legislation. Already the state's largest mega-dairies have inserted a loophole to exempt them from reducing, or even reporting, their annual methane emissions. And Shelly Boshart Davis, Monsanto's 2015 Farm Mom of the Year, weighed in on the bill in an op-ed, writing  that she was "dismayed" by legislation she feels would "stifle my ability to invest in sustainable technology and dramatically increase the cost of running my company," complaining about the increase of "$50 per month by some estimates" to her family's business, Boshart Trucking, reported to have annual sales of more than $8 million.

Whether this bill actually makes it to a vote this session or legislators decide to postpone it until 2019, you can get more information and weigh in on this legislation now.

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