Governor Kate Brown pledges to shield local jobs, economy

Gov. Kate Brown chats with Shawna Peterson, the chair of the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board in Ontario Friday. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that a controversial plan to limit carbon emissions in Oregon isn’t aimed to hurt Malheur County’s economy.

“My goal in crafting this legislation is to do it such a way that its does not hurt the economy we already have,” Brown told the audience at the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Clarion Inn.

The governor was in town as part of an eastern Oregon trip that included a tour of a local onion warehouse and a meeting with the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board at Jolts and Juice in downtown Ontario. Brown largely stuck to her agenda for Oregon that includes an emphasis on education, creating more housing and fighting global warming.

“I am focused to continue tackling global climate change,” Brown said.

She also lauded the importance of vocational education and said small community colleges like Treasure Valley Community College are the “workhorses of our education system.” She also said it was important that the state’s Public Employees Retirement System, or PERS, remained “financially stable.”

Brown told the chamber audience she also was committed to seeing Malheur County grow. Larry Wilson, Malheur County commissioner, voiced concern to Brown that the economic playing field between Oregon and Idaho was uneven.

Wilson said it cost more to build a house in Oregon then in Idaho. Wilson said whenever officials seek to promote change in Oregon’s land use laws “we get push back every time.” Wilson said Oregon’s land use laws were “choking us to death.”

Brown said there are challenges along every border region.

“They are having issues in the state of Washington, Nevada, Arizona,” said Brown. Brown said she wanted to see the county’s housing problem solved.

“I don’t want land use to be the reason we are not building houses,” said Brown.

When the land use issue came up again at the border board meeting, Brown said she would call Jim Rue, the director of the state’s land use agency “when I leave here.”

Wilson said later he was encouraged but would adopt a wait-and-see attitude.

“I hope she means what she says,” said Wilson. “But I really didn’t hear any just good, solid answers. Hopefully something will come out of it.”

Vale Mayor Mike McLaughlin said he was “very pleased with her coming out here.”

“The housing issue, I was hoping to hear her talk more about that,” said McLaughlin.

Riley Hill, Ontario mayor, said he “hoped she listened.”

Emissions takes center stage

Yet it was the emissions issue that lingered over her visit. The proposal, House Bill 2020, was certainly on the minds of residents. The first question from the audience at the chamber event focused on the proposal and the concept came up again at the border board meeting.

Asked whether she would consider a waiver for eastern Oregon regarding the emissions standard Brown said she would not support a “total carve out.”

Brown said there needs to be more communication about “how we level the playing field” with the proposal.

Brown said protecting the area’s ability to provide jobs was important.

“Every job in eastern Oregon matters,” Brown said.

At the border board session, Brown was again asked about the proposal and emphasized the emissions bill is a work in progress.

“The original language of the bill is not something I’d sign,” said Brown.

Border board member Ralph Poole talked at length about the emissions proposal and told Brown that the plan would have a “totally devastating impact on our community.”

Poole emphasized eastern Oregon – and especially Malheur County – are “very different than other parts of the state.”

“It (HB 2020) will cause businesses to close and it will have a huge impact on farmers. We will then be even more disadvantaged. People will go to Idaho to buy fuel,” said Poole.

Brown said that the impetus behind HB 2020 has “never been to target the agriculture industry.”

Brown said she wasn’t sure what was the best way forward on the proposal.

“Do we do a carve out? A slow implementation? Or an immediate implementation with resources behind it? I don’t know the answer,” said Brown.

At the border board session, Brown said she wanted to hear “how we can be more supportive.”

Brown listened to a briefing by chair Shawna Peterson on legislation sought by the local group. The board – consisting of seven residents – is pushing five new proposals at the Legislature sponsored by state Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale. The proposals would lift land use restrictions and attract more teachers to the county along with the creating marketing plan to promote the border region as a great place to live and work.

Other proposed legislation by the board include allowing out-of-state residents who seek a businesses license in Oregon more time to meet state requirements, a proposal to increasing the number of secondary math, science and career and technical teachers and expanding broadband internet along the border region.

Brown told the group that she was “extremely impressed with your hard work.”

“Well done,” Brown told the board.

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