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Big wins in 2017 Oregon legislative session

Posted by Hannah Meganck on August 7, 2017

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Sustainable Northwest and our partners have a lot to celebrate with the culmination of Oregon’s 2017 legislative session. Our efforts in Salem and across the state secured big wins for farm and ranchland conservation, forest restoration, and renewable energy, bringing Oregon closer to the sustainable northwest we relentlessly strive for. Our biggest wins include:

  • Developing and passing the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program (OAHP), which will sustain working farms and ranches, preserve conservation benefits and wildlife habitat, and support succession planning for the next generation of landowners.
  • Securing funding for the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Federal Restoration Program, and making the program permanent in the agency budget for the first time. 
  • Leading the coalition to pass SB 634, which amends existing law to include woody biomass as an eligible renewable energy technology option in new public construction projects.

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Continue reading for a detailed breakdown of each bill—

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HB 3294 – The Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program 

HB 3249 creates the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, Oregon’s first voluntary program to help farmers and ranchers conserve working lands and the fish and wildlife habitat they support. The bill was developed during a two-year effort by the following six statewide organizations that represent agriculture and natural resource conservation: Sustainable Northwest, Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts, Oregon Association of Conservation Districts, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, Oregon Farm Bureau, and The Nature Conservancy.

The program addresses key issues farmers and ranchers face in Oregon: the conversion and fragmentation of farmland and the challenge of planning for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. In passing the OAHP, the legislature provided $190,000 over the next biennium to set up rules for the program and establish the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Commission to administer future program funds. In conjunction with the Commission, the program will be managed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board to provide grants to landowners to protect their working lands, enhance natural resource values, and assist with succession planning. Read more about this huge win for Oregon farmers.

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Oregon Department of Forestry Federal Forest Restoration Program

The Federal Forest Restoration Program is critical to increasing the pace, scale, and effectiveness of restoration on the 60% of Oregon’s forests managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The program supports the development of a sustainable forest products infrastructure that provides living wage jobs in restoration and stewardship of federal forests through collaboration, innovative partnerships, and integration of science into planning and management.

Funding was provided for the program in the amount of $3 million for the biennium AND the program was made permanent in the ODF base budget. The package also includes $1.2 million in federal and other funds to leverage and support program implementation. In the previous two biennia, the program was a Policy Option Package contingent on one time appropriated funds from the legislature. The shift to the base budget signals an important commitment from the state to continue and build upon its investments in federal land management as a regular program of work. Funds will be used to support collaborative grants, science and technical assistance, and a State Federal Implementation Partnership of on the ground projects that enhance fish and wildlife habitat, reduce risk of uncharacteristic wildfire, and produce timber supply for mills and forest products companies. 

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SB 634 – Parity in Renewable Energy Policy

Oregon law requires public entities to spend 1.5 percent of the total price of a public improvement contract for new construction or the major renovation of a public building on green energy technology. Public entities include, but are not limited to, state agencies, community colleges, school districts and local government. Under existing law, only solar and geothermal technologies are eligible to meet the 1.5% budget requirement for public building construction and renovation. This excludes modern wood heating systems that are clean, renewable, low cost and support improved forest health and rural jobs.

SB 634 amended the law to include high efficiency woody biomass thermal and combined heat and power systems that utilize wood pellets, chips, and other densified fuels. The measure had been introduced twice but defeated in previous sessions due to member conflicts. However, this session, Sustainable Northwest worked with diverse stakeholders and legislators to develop bipartisan support and overcome hurdles. As a result, the legislation passed unanimously in both the House and Senate. The 1.5% requirement increases Oregon’s energy independence and provides numerous economic and environmental benefits. For many areas of the state, the best renewable energy choice may be biomass, and SB 634 makes sure this option is on the table.