Oregon Cities

Environment, climate policies mostly took a backseat during Oregon’s 2024 short session

Oregon lawmakers spent much of the short 2024 legislative session focused on housing regulations and drug criminalization. That often left environmental policies around wildfires, farms and climate change on the back burner.

Most efforts to beef up the state’s wildfire resiliency died this session — although a measure limiting the financial pinch for people recovering from wildfires made it through. State worker pension funds will stop investing in coal companies, but a push to get state agencies to buy from clean tech companies failed. Housing legislation that passed included support for immigrant Oregonians, including agricultural farmworkers, but a program helping workers who lose work due to extreme heat or smoke did not get funded. Two bills aimed at guiding the state’s transition to green energy through offshore wind and battery storage did win approval.

Here’s a look at some of the top environmental bills that were introduced this session, and where they stand.

Forests and wildfires

Multiple bills failed that sought to help Oregonians prepare for or fight wildfires, often with the help of higher or new taxes. But one measure aimed at limiting taxes for people recovering from wildfires is heading to the governor’s desk.

Related: Capital Chronicle: Oregon’s legislative session ending without much-needed solutions to wildfire funding issues

Passed: SB 1520. Limiting taxes on wildfire survivors as they recover. Normally all income is considered taxable under state law, though there are some exceptions, like disaster relief. After this bill is signed, wildfire survivors also won’t need to pay income taxes for settlements and compensations they receive from wildfire-related lawsuits. It only applies to wildfires that were declared a disaster by state or federal agencies, so it wouldn’t apply to small wildfires. It also only applies to wildfires from 2018 onward.

A file photo from 2021 shows lingering devastation from the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire in Gates, Oregon. Senate Bill 1520, which limits taxes on wildfire survivors as they recover, is heading to the governor's desk.

A file photo from 2021 shows lingering devastation from the 2020 Beachie Creek Fire in Gates, Oregon. Senate Bill 1520, which limits taxes on wildfire survivors as they recover, is heading to the governor’s desk.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Dead: HB 4133: Raising taxes on timber to pay for fire protection. This bill would have increased Oregon’s forest products harvest tax from $0.625 to $1 per 1,000 board feet, an amount that would have increased alongside inflation. That tax is currently charged for timber harvested on most private and public land in the state, excluding many tribal lands. It also would have decreased the fees that landowners pay for state fire protection. The bill died in the Ways and Means committee.

Dead: SB 1511: Making homes wildfire-resilient. This bill would have funded a grant program for supporting landowners who make wildfire resiliency improvements on their properties, like by creating what’s called “defensible space.” This bill also would have potentially reduced homeowners insurance rates for property owners who make fire resiliency improvements

Dead: HB 4075: A new tax for public safety, including firefighting. This was a companion bill to House Joint Resolution 201, which would have asked voters in November if they wanted to fund public safety through a new statewide property tax. The bill would have created a task force for creating rules and procedures, with several members coming from various firefighting agencies.

Dead: SB 1593: Changing how Oregon taxes private timber harvests, funding wildfire prevention. This bill would have reinstated Oregon’s severance tax on the sale of raw timber harvested on private lands. Those revenues would have been given to counties to fund wildfire protection. It also would have repealed the current forest products harvest tax.

Agriculture and farmworkers

In agricultural legislation, the major point of debate was canola production in the Willamette Valley. Lawmakers and farmers looked to find a compromise to allow more canola production, but groups hit an impasse and legislators subsequently voted to keep a 500-acre cap on canola farming in the valley until Jan. 2, 2028.

Passed: HB 4059: Continuing canola production in the Willamette Valley. This bill extends the current 500-acre cap on canola production in the Willamette Valley Protected District until Jan. 2, 2028. Lawmakers and farmers were looking to extend canola production in the valley after years of debate. Groups couldn’t agree on whether to allow genetically engineered canola or not. Legislators say they will likely revisit the issue in a later legislative session.

Agricultural groups could not agree to a plan to extend canola growing in the Willamette Valley during the 2024 legislative session, so lawmakers voted to continue the cap that's in place now. They're likely to revisit the issue next year.

Agricultural groups could not agree to a plan to extend canola growing in the Willamette Valley during the 2024 legislative session, so lawmakers voted to continue the cap that’s in place now. They’re likely to revisit the issue next year.

Russ Gesch / U.S. Department of Agriculture

Passed: SB 1530: Housing development and stability, including for immigrant workers. This bill is part of a $376 million Emergency Housing Stability package aimed at boosting housing production, streamlining development and supporting renters. The package earmarks some money that could go to culturally responsive organizations like the Oregon Worker Relief home fund, which provides direct relief to immigrant Oregonians at risk of experiencing housing eviction or homelessness. The group was also lobbying the state for $9 million toward its Climate Change Fund, which provides financial assistance for agricultural workers who lost wages due to extreme heat or smoke. The Legislature did not approve that funding this year.

Passed: SB 5701: Support for conservation on farms and ranches, in a bigger end-of-session funding bill. This is the Legislature’s catch-all, end-of-year spending bill, otherwise known as the “Christmas tree bill,” because it includes funding for a variety of programs. It earmarks $5.1 million to the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Fund, which is managed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. The program provides financial incentives and technical support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation farming practices into their operations. It also helps farmers purchase conservation easements on their land, which limits non-farm uses once the land is put under easement.

Dead: HB 4049: Study ‘forever chemicals’ in agriculture. This bill would have appropriated $740,000 and commissioned Oregon State University to study PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” in biosolids from municipal wastewater facilities. Researchers would have looked into how the chemicals break down when applied as fertilizer in agricultural fields that do not produce crops intended for human consumption.

Dead: HB 4061: Support farms whose crops are damaged by elk. This bill would have appropriated $600,000 to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and directed the agency to establish an elk damage prevention and compensation pilot program for agricultural producers whose crops were damaged by elk.

Renewable energy & transportation:

Federal officials this year are moving ahead with an effort to allow offshore wind energy projects off the coast of Coos Bay and Brookings, despite reservations from tribes, the fishing industry and some community members. The Oregon Legislature approved a bill that seeks to guide how those projects will proceed, and also passed a measure aimed at supporting battery projects necessary for the clean energy transition.

Passed: HB 4080: Guidelines for offshore wind energy projects. This bill outlines principles for how off-shore wind energy projects are developed, including labor and supply chain guidelines and land-use rules. The bill makes it state policy that developers of offshore wind should collaborate with communities, tribes and others affected by their work. Supporters said the bill is key to ensuring that local communities benefit from developments of this form of clean energy.

Passed: HB 4015: Removes barriers to battery storage projects. Large-scale battery energy storage systems are considered key to developing a functional grid powered by renewable electric resources. They keep the lights on even when clouds block solar panels and windmills are still. HB 4015 makes it easier for companies to get approval for battery energy storage systems that would support renewable power in the state.

Portland's electric bikes and scooters are increasing in popularity around the city.

A file photo of an e-bike. Children younger than 16 will now be allowed to ride some electric bicycles, under legislation headed to Gov. Tina Kotek’s desk for her signature.

Cheyenne Thorpe / OPB

Passed: HB 4103: New rules for e-bikes. Until now, people younger than 16 were not allowed to ride e-bikes under state law. HB 2103 lets them ride e-bikes that provide a boost when pedaling at a speed of 20 miles per hour or less. This legislation also creates two classes of e-bikes that only people older than 16 can legally use: bikes that go up to 20 mph even when the rider is not pedaling, and bikes that go up to 28 mph when the rider is pedaling.

State government & business investments around climate change

Lawmakers tackled two bills aimed at using the power of the purse to influence climate change. A push to stop investing state worker pension funds in coal companies passed, but support for clean energy spending by state agencies did not have the votes.

Passed: HB 4083: Ends state retirement investments in coal companies in favor of green investments. Oregon’s $94 billion Public Employee Retirement System has invested nearly $1 billion in coal mining and energy companies. This bill directs the Oregon Investment Council and state treasurer to divest from those fossil fuel companies, although there’s an exception for businesses transitioning away from coal to clean energy. Read more from the Oregon Capital Chronicle

Dead: HB 4112: Clean energy government grants, loans and contracts. This bill would have created incentives to support clean energy technology in Oregon, including through grants and loans and by having state agencies prioritize purchases from companies that sell products and services related to clean energy.

Fish & wildlife legislation

Passed: HB 4132: Protecting marine life along Oregon’s coast. This bill focuses on Oregon’s five marine reserves, which are coastal waters dedicated to scientific research and conservation. HB 4132 calls on the state to outline ways to continue protecting these coastal waters from developments and other threats to marine life. It provides the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife with about $895,000 for this work.

Dead: HB 4148: Protecting, studying native wildlife, understanding invasive species. This bill would have funded programs that monitor wildlife diseases — like chronic wasting disease among deer — as well as invasive species. It also would have created a “wildlife coexistence” program to reduce conflicts between wildlife and humans, like when elk destroy hay fields or when cars strike deer. The bill also would have called on transportation officials to pursue creating or modifying wildlife corridors, which are structures that allow animals to safely cross roads.

Planning for disaster, protecting access to parks and outdoor spaces

Passed: SB 1576: Protecting access to outdoor recreation. This is an omnibus bill covering three different issues around civil lawsuits, but its changes to Oregon’s recreational immunity law got the most attention. That law has long protected public and private landowners from lawsuits if someone was injured while using their property for recreation. This bill adjusts the legal definition of “recreation” to include three additional activities: walking, running and bicycling. The change stems from a lawsuit against the city of Newport, in which a woman argued she wasn’t recreating when she hurt herself on a public trail. Many local government closed their public trails after the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with her. This legislation is temporary and gives lawmakers time to draft potential long-term changes to protect recreation in outdoor spaces.

Dead: HB 4044: Planning for toxic chemical risks in case of a megaquake. Since a massive earthquake is expected to hit the Pacific Northwest in the coming decades, local officials have raised concerns about industrial facilities releasing plumes of toxic chemicals, particularly around the North Portland area. This bill would have tasked the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality with studying the risks of earthquake-induced toxic inhalation, and with identifying areas in the state that are most at risk.


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