It should come as no surprise to anyone in Oregon that the 2019 Legislative Session in Salem has been one of the most difficult in anyone’s memory. Gone are the days when collegial legislators can agree to disagree and collaborate to find common ground to form policy for all Oregonians. Today, the legislative gridlock is a symptom of the growing rural-urban divide that is becoming a seemingly insurmountable chasm to everyone’s dismay.
As I write this, the Oregon legislature is in limbo with all Republican senators absent in protest of House Bill (HB) 2020, which is a highly contentious piece of legislation that would institute a sweeping cap-and-trade program in Oregon by setting a ceiling on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and charging polluters for what they emit. Oregon would be the second state after California to enact such a policy.
Our very own Senator Betsy Johnson, who is co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, has been very clear on her concerns about the scope and detrimental effects on rural Oregon and our natural resource-based economies. As a result of her protestations on behalf of rural counties, Senate President Peter Courtney removed Senator Johnson and added himself in her stead when it came time for the Ways and Means committee vote in order to assure passage.
As chair of the Council of Forest Trust Land Counties, I too, along with vice-chair, Coos County Commissioner John Sweet, have been vocal in opposition to HB 2020. We have testified many times before the Board of Forestry and Legislative Natural Resource Committees. We were especially honored to be asked to present to Representative Brad Witt’s House Natural Resource Committee in an informational hearing, which allowed for an extended amount of time, about the Social and Economic Impacts of Oregon’s Current Forest Policies with particular attention to HB 2020. We were gratified with the reaction and concern expressed by the questions asked on both sides of the aisle. The video and materials can be found here: http://oregon.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=26956&meta_id=1384511&fbclid=IwAR1AUb3LNdIP1O5m8kNz5ynnfSJHFo577VSXG0ZkoCrATteRG1erLHIYbdw.
We truly need to address the issue of climate change, but HB 2020 is not the answer. HB 2020 is problematical in many ways. First, Oregon’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is microscopic, accounting for 0.14% of global carbon output. Yet, the economic and social impacts to rural Oregon would be huge and disproportionate. Oregon already passed a Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which currently adds $0.5 per gallon going to $0.25 in 2025. HB 2020 will add an initial $0.15 to $0.16 going up to $1.50 in following years. Natural gas, propane, and diesel fuel prices will also increase dramatically.
Second, let’s look at the other side of the coin to discuss carbon sequestration. Oregon is blessed to already have one of the best carbon sequestration systems in the world – our forest lands. Through modern sustainable forestry practices, our forests have the ability to continuously sequester ever-increasing amounts of carbon. The fastest rate of uptake of carbon occurs in younger forests as they grow rapidly while reaching for the sun. As a forest ages to 50+ years, the rate of carbon uptake slows as the forest matures. We can then harvest the trees and when turned into finished wood products, the carbon remains in the fiber. We then go in and replant the forest and the rapid uptake of carbon starts all over again. Unfortunately, this sequestration of carbon is not accounted for in HB 2020.
Furthermore, our forest lands play a critical role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration. Productive forests that are managed to create products that store carbon have greater long-term carbon benefits than forests left unmanaged. If we think about replacing forest products with steel, concrete, and plastic composites to build our homes, how does this reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Third, we are all horrified by the many conflagrations that have occurred in Oregon, California, and across the West in recent years. We cannot prevent forest fires, but we can help to make sure they do not become disastrous. Proper forest management can decrease the chances of forest fires becoming conflagrations. At the same time, we halt the release of carbon back into the atmosphere when our forests burn.
Fourth, the overall business atmosphere in Oregon is also quite problematical. Stimson Lumber recently reduced workforce in its Forest Grove mill by almost 25% while proposing to reduce its Forest Grove operations by 40%. During the current legislative session, businesses have been complaining that the new business tax, coupled with new family leave law, and carbon cap and trade, are substantially increasing their costs. Two months ago, Georgia Pacific permanently closed its Coos Bay mill thereby putting 111 people out of work.
Fifth, reduced timber harvest revenue has had devastating effects on rural county budgets, including many special districts. In Tillamook County, when we receive monies from state timberlands harvest, people think this money all flows into county coffers; in fact we keep only about 25% of these timber receipts. The other 3/4 goes directly to 20 or so special districts within Tillamook County, such as school districts, the community college, education service districts, fire districts, soil and water conservation, transportation district, 4-H, 911, and many others.
Lastly, of even greater concern is the loss of family-wage, fully-benefited jobs provided by our natural resource-based industries. The most recent data (2017) from the State of Oregon’s Employment Department tells us that the average private sector job in Oregon pays $50,483 while Tillamook County averages $36,737. Yet in Tillamook County, forestry and logging jobs pay $50,680 and wood products manufacturing jobs pay $52,918, while truck transportation jobs pay $43,572. All of these jobs are normally fully-benefited positions. In short, timber revenue is vitally important to the county and our special districts and reduced timber harvest can be a community killer in terms of the loss of family-wage, fully benefited jobs.
I have had to make far too many trips to Salem these last few months mainly to testify against bad bills aimed at our natural resource industries of timber, agriculture, and fishing. I keep telling myself I must do this for the survival of Tillamook County and our way of life. HB 2020 is, and always has been, the 800 lb. gorilla in the Capitol this session. There have been over 100 amendments proposed for this bill. Honestly, any time a bill receives over 50 proposed amendments, perhaps the best and appropriate course of action is to just start over rather than create a monster with far too many extraneous additions, which create many unintended consequences.
HB 2020 is far too big and complex to be pushed through and enacted without collaboration and agreement from all sides. Far too many details remain unanswered and agency reports are yet to be completed about the impacts of HB 2020.
At this late hour in the legislative session, if cooler heads do not prevail, it appears HB 2020 may die. Alternatively, if HB 2020 is enacted without further amendments, I feel it is inevitable that this bill will get referred to the voters of Oregon for a decision.
David Yamamoto is a Tillamook County commissioner