Oregon Governor Folds on Wetlands Law After Promise to Veto

(CN) – Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill Friday that environmentalists say will weaken protections of wetlands and intermittent streams, reversing course after announcing on Monday that she would likely veto the controversial bill.

House Bill 2437 allows farmers to remove 3,000 cubic yards of earth from intermittent streams to drain their fields, and then lets them dump the dredged earth in healthy wetlands. The bill also removes state oversight over those actions. Under current law, only 50 cubic yards can be removed from such areas.

On Monday, Brown announced that she would likely veto the bill, saying it went too far and could put the state afoul of federal law regulating wetlands permitting.

“Collectively, these changes could have a significant impact on our wildlife populations and wetland habitats, including potentially adverse effects on our native salmon populations,” Brown said Monday.

But she changed her mind and on Friday issued a letter saying she had instead signed the bill into law. Now, Brown says the new law is necessary “because of the complete lack of workability of the current law.” She also said she was satisfied with the participation of two environmental groups – Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy – in crafting the bill alongside agricultural interests.

But Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society, said the new law would weaken the exact protections Brown had earlier vowed she would defend.

In May, Brown signed a bill preserving environmental protections that were in place when President Barack Obama left office. At the time, she vowed to fight rollbacks on the Clean Water Act, and other environmental regulations.

“By working together with other states, we can take a leadership role in preventing the erosion of core laws that protect our environment,” Brown said then.

Sallinger called the governor’s reversal “a major disappointment.”

“This runs entirely counter to the governor’s stated commitment to protecting clean water in Oregon and really shows a tremendous lack of environmental leadership on her part, especially after speaking out so strongly about standing up to the Trump administration,” Sallinger told Courthouse News.

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