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Oregon’s Go-It-Alone Attitude

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Article Courtesy of Associated Oregon Industries

The Oregon Legislature has pushed for a variety of new environmental bills this Session that, if passed, would make Oregon either the first state in the nation to implement their plans or create a new, otherwise unique regulatory process for business.  At first glance, it may sound heroic, exceptional; after all, why shouldn’t Oregon be a trailblazer in addressing concerns related to the environment?

Yet, as these bills advance through the Oregon Legislature, it is becoming more clear that changing state-wide regulations will place significant burdens on numerous parties; when a policy is unique to Oregon, people, businesses, and regulators – from both other states and the federal government – face uneven and confusing rules.

SB 478, that would regulate chemicals in certain consumer products, is one of those trailblazing bills.  With administration by the Oregon Health Authority, it is designed to catalogue and maintain a comprehensive list of concerning chemicals used in children’s products, ban certain chemicals, and force new regulations on manufacturers and retailers.  And its goal – to help mitigate children’s exposure to harmful substances – seems reasonable enough.

But, the logistics of the bill require participation from every manufacturer using a concerning chemical on the list; depending on the type of product, some would have to remove, substitute, or apply for a waiver to continue to use the concerning chemical in their products while others would have to disclose the concerning chemical used.  Manufacturers from around the world would have to monitor the content of their products sent specifically to Oregon, and would have to understand what the compliance process entailed even if they were based in a foreign country without the resources available to monitor Oregon’s concerning chemical list.

Washington passed a less costly version of the bill more than six years ago, called the Children’s Safe Product Act.  But that version is not as expansive as Oregon’s proposed bill.  SB 478 would be more impactful because it would directly affect companies, both within and out of Oregon, trying to import their products to a state with different rules than the rest of the country and subject these same businesses to new product bans and regulatory hurdles.

Similarly, several more bills – HB 3470, HB 3250, HB 3252, and SB 965 – to name a few – all address greenhouse gas emissions by setting caps or limits for Oregon and its carbon output.  While the bill proponents inaccurately claim that these bills will reduce climate change, the reality is that Oregon already has one of the cleanest, most efficient economies in the world.  As a result, implementation of these bills will not address climate change, but instead increase energy prices for Oregonians, making Oregon have a higher cost of living than neighboring states without the policies.

Oregon businesses are put at a comparative disadvantage whenever the Oregon Legislature passes new measures like the toxics reporting bill or caps on greenhouse gas and carbon emissions because other states do not have that regulation.  The heaviest polluters may just move next door, taking jobs previously held by Oregonians with them, while the costs to the small and moderate polluters in Oregon increase, spreading rising prices across the state.

It’s a vicious cycle; being a trailblazer in regulation means that Oregonians do not get to see the benefits of the legislation as easily as many will see the costs.  And, it means that the regulatory burdens imposed by the new laws are inflicted only on organizations doing work with Oregonians.  When the costs of selling a product or manufacturing in Oregon rise, it is more difficult to compete with prices on the open market outside of Oregon.

Importantly, these are only two examples where Oregon lawmakers’ have demonstrated a willingness to appease the environmental special interest even though the federal government is already or will soon be regulating in these areas.  Meaning, not only will Oregon businesses suffer due to differing regulations, Oregon taxpayers will be subsidizing these costly laws.

So, how can many of these issues be addressed?  One solution is to examine them at a federal level instead of just a state-wide one.  The U.S.’s large population means that, if a regulation that is burdensome is imposed on an industry or population, then the entire country deals with the regulation, instead of just one state; by federally imposing laws, local jurisdictions do not have to incur as many costs.

Again, the federal government is already considering the issues that SB 478, HB 3470, HB 3250, and HB 3252 attempt to address, further making the Oregon regulations superfluous.  A federal and comprehensive consumer products and chemical bill has already received bipartisan support in Congress, while greenhouse gas emissions were curtailed on a national level in part by the Clean Air Act and its later amendments.  Implementing these bills on Oregon alone is a recipe for higher costs and few benefits.  However, if implemented on a federal level, these bills have the opportunity to be beneficial to many, and to have their costs spread out across many users instead of just Oregonians.

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