By reversing course on vetoing HB 2437, Governor Kate Brown missed an opportunity to meet Oregon’s climate resiliency goals.
With the unfortunate failure of the Clean Energy Jobs bill–HB 2020, Governor Brown still had an opportunity to help Oregon meet its climate goals: Veto HB 2437, the so-called “ditch cleaning bill” that allows farmers to remove up to 3,000 cubic yards of material (the equivalent of roughly 300 dump trucks) from ditches and intermittent streams without going through the state’s removal fill permitting process.
After a press release signaling a potential veto, we were quite surprised and disappointed to learn of the governor’s reversal and support of the bill. Up until August 9, Governor Brown had voiced strong opposition to President Trump’s proposed rollbacks of Waters Of The US (WOTUS). In February of 2018, Oregon was one of 11 states to sue the EPA for its suspension of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. In April 2019, Oregon then filed comments setting forth Governor Brown’s concerns with President Trump’s proposed WOTUS rule changes, including concerns over narrowing the scope of the “Waters of the United States.” In May of 2019, Governor Brown celebrated the passage of HB 2250, which was created to protect against the rollbacks of federal clean air and clean water laws that are pushing the environment backwards, not forwards. In a press release after signing the bill HB2250, Governor Brown boasted that Oregon is “taking a leadership role in preventing the erosion of core laws that protect our environment”.
The Wetlands Conservancy in partnership with 23 other conservation groups supported Veto 2437. Our joint concern was the rolling back of rules that protect important wetland resources that sequester some of the largest stores of carbon on the planet. When disturbed or warmed, wetlands release the three major heat trapping greenhouse gasses: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Globally, wetlands represent three percent of the world’s total land area, but sequester 30 percent of all soil carbon. North American wetlands comprise 37 percent of all wetland areas globally, so their value to carbon accounting cannot be overstated. HB 2437 does the opposite; it rolls back decades of progress to protect Oregon’s dwindling wetlands.
The signed bill, directs agencies to develop rules that define converted wetlands to help guide where removal and fill activities should take place. Additionally, The Department of State Lands will establish rules to adequately protect intermittent streams. The Wetlands Conservancy has been asked to participate in these work groups, along with reviewing draft proposals for legislation on State Partial Assumption of the Federal Removal and Fill (404) program. We will keep you posted about what we are learning and ways and times to voice your support of strong wetland protection rules in Oregon.
-Esther Lev, Executive Director, The Wetlands Conservancy
Photo Credit: Jackson Pickard