The biennial “short session” of the Oregon Legislature opens Monday, Feb. 3, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will figure prominently when the gavels come down in the House and Senate.
“This session will be framed by the climate conversation,” said Annalisa Bhatia, senior legislative advisor for DEQ. At stake is proposed carbon “cap and trade” legislation, currently contained in a bill similar to one that prompted a walkout by Senate Republicans during last year’s legislative session.
One difference, however, is that DEQ would be given oversight authority of the cap and trade program, should the bill pass in its current form. In previous sessions, the legislature considered creating a separate agency to oversee the program.
The carbon reduction bill is one of hundreds that will be introduced during the 35-day session, which is expected to last through the first week of March. Already nearly 300 bills have been introduced, with more coming every day, Bhatia said. Of those, more than 30 are directly or indirectly related to DEQ – primarily on the water quality side.
One issue that could get significant attention is the testing of water systems for cyanotoxins from harmful algae blooms, which disrupted Salem’s drinking water supply in 2018 after appearing in Detroit Lake. Bhatia says there will be legislation to bolster DEQ lab’s water testing capabilities through investment.
Also on the docket is a bill to create a product stewardship program for mattresses and additional grant funding for onsite low interest lending.
The pace can get hectic because there is little time to meet bill deadlines, Bhatia said. “It’s a whirlwind,” she said. But it’s also exciting and critically important to DEQ and the rest of the state.
“What I like about it is, everyone is talking about how to make the best policy for Oregon and how to make it a better place,” she said.
Joining Bhatia is the office of policy and analysis team of Matt Davis (air), Abby Boudouris (land) and Rian Hooff (water). We wish them luck!
— Harry Esteve, communications manager