Legislatures take on issues impacting agriculture

Oregon: Carbon cap, pesticide restrictions

SALEM — While Oregon lawmakers are expected this year to wrestle with some perennial controversies impacting agriculture, those issues will be debated in a new light now that Democrats have won super-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

The tighter Democratic control over the House and Senate will primarily be relevant for tax-raising measures, which require three-fifths “super-majority” approval to pass in Oregon.

However, the change also has implications for restrictions on pesticides, biotechnology and antibiotics, since proponents of such regulations see left-leaning lawmakers as more sympathetic to their aims, said Jonathan Sandau, government affairs specialist for the Oregon Farm Bureau.

“These groups are going to be looking for victories because they, quote-unquote, got those legislators there,” he said.

Democrats now hold 38 seats in the House while Republicans hold 22. In the Senate, Democrats hold 18 seats while Republicans hold 12.

A cap on carbon emissions is expected to be a major point of discussion in 2019, though current proposals would exempt agriculture from direct regulation, he said. Even so, farmers would likely face higher costs for fuel, fertilizer and electricity as suppliers pass on the added expense of new regulation.

“That’s where the impact is going to be felt in agriculture,” Sandau said.

As farm lobbyists prepare for the 2019 legislative session, which begins Jan. 22 and likely ends in early July, they expect bills on the following subjects to be introduced:

• Pesticides: Proposed restrictions on the use of controversial chemicals, such as chlorpyrifos, glyphosate and several neonicotinoids, will probably crop up again this year, as will proposals requiring advance notice of aerial pesticide applications and pesticide use reporting.

• Coexistence: Tensions between producers of various crops are a persistent concern in Oregon agriculture, which may result in legislative proposals intended to mitigate conflicts between canola and seed crops, marijuana and hemp, as well as genetically engineered crops and those grown organically or conventionally.

• Dairy: Wastewater problems at a large dairy in Boardman, Ore., have prompted the introduction of legislation that would classify large operations as industrial facilities, excluding them from “right to farm” protections against lawsuits and local regulatory ordinances. These proposals also include a moratorium on new construction of large dairies and studies of their environmental and economic impacts.

• Land use: Housing shortages in Oregon are spurring lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to consider making the state’s land use system — which is intended to preserve farm and forest land — more flexible in allowing development. For example, there’s a proposal to permit “accessory dwelling units” outside city limits. Restrictions on solar facilities and outdoor mass gatherings on farmland are also likely to be debated.

• Wetlands: The rules governing farmers’ ability to clean out drainage ditches in wetlands are currently seen as too cumbersome, which has resulted in a proposal that would allow landowners to dig out more dirt from these channels without a state fill-removal permit. Proposals may also target other aspects of wetland regulation, such as how wetland areas are mapped.