One of the bills Oregon lawmakers will consider in their upcoming session calls for updating state land-use planning goals to address climate change and environmental justice.

House Bill 2488 would require the state to add new goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and include disadvantaged communities in land development decisions.

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It would create an environmental justice advisory committee within the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development and require the state to create a map of the communities facing the highest environmental health risks.

Sunlight reflects off solar panels west of Pendleton, Oregon, along Interstate 84.

Sunlight reflects off solar panels west of Pendleton, Oregon, along Interstate 84.

E.J. Harris / East Oregonian

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Karin Power, D-Portland, said changing state planning goals will help make local development decisions more inclusive.

“These goals were written 50 years ago by people who had very different life experiences and very different purposes,” she said.” “I believe it’s time we take a fresh look at who they’re serving and who they incorporate into decision-making.”

The bill has vocal support from the environmental group Beyond Toxics and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Sharon Gary-Smith, president of the Portland branch of the NAACP, said that as an African-American born and raised in Oregon, she knows how much the state prides itself on land stewardship. But she said many people have been excluded from that stewardship because of their skin color, geographic location or lack of resources.

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“We know the inequitable practices and differences in interpretation of land and its value always has been along racially unjust lines,” she said. “We were not in positions to be equitable participants in the decision-making around protection and saving the land and nurturing the land for future generations.”

Gary-Smith said the bill would “recognize, affirm and ensure all of us are represented: rural, isolated, urban, disenfranchised, poor, marginalized, yet to be at the table young people who are at the front lines of environmental justice in climate change. So we can reap the benefits of Oregon law and land-use practices that honor us and include us and allow us to be influencers and decisionmakers.”

The bill also would amend what advocates call “outdated and offensive statutory language” in the state’s land-use planning law by removing the term “minorities” and replacing it with terms that best reflect the state’s racially and culturally diverse population.

Because changing the land-use goals that guide development decisions will take time, the bill doesn’t require the changes to be complete until 2026, but it requires the state to create interim standards to guide land-use decisions in the meantime.

Another fight over climate?

Other climate policy bills have divided lawmakers along party lines, and last year Republicans walked out to stop the passage of a cap and trade bill that aimed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the climate is sure to be a hot topic during the 2021 session.

Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed 2021-2023 state budget includes $800,000 for the state Department of Land Conservation and Development to make changes to land-use planning goals.

And advocates of House Bill 2488 say addressing climate change in Oregon requires rethinking how the state uses land, and that the state can’t address climate change without addressing the legacy of land-use decisions that have failed many communities.

Danny Noonan with Beyond Toxics said one major change that could come along with the goal amendments is that more of the people who are affected by land-use decisions will be informed and included in the decision-making process.

“We’re talking to landowners when those decisions are made, which excludes renters and the rest of the community in the area,” he said. “That’s just the immediate impacts of that land-use decision. There’s no requirement to bring in communities that might experience downstream impacts.”

He noted the amended goals could also affect decisions such as expanding the urban growth boundary to allow more development, a move that does not require a consideration of climate impacts under the state’s current land-use planning goals.

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