- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

The Bulletin, Jan. 20, on primary elections:

Oregon House Bill 2429 is a tribute to Doug and Gail Whitsett. But it’s not for the work the married Republicans did to represent their districts in Eastern Oregon. It’s for the way the Whitsetts effectively picked their successors.

Just minutes before the filing deadline for the Republican primary in March, former Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum filed for Doug Whitsett’s Senate seat. Businessman Eric “Werner” Reschke filed for Gail Whitsett’s House seat. Then, the day after the deadline, both Whitsetts pulled out of their respective races.

The Whitsetts, Linthicum and Reschke insisted they had done nothing wrong. But plenty of people thought it looked wrong.

It was wrong. Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, the House minority leader, said he might have filed to run for Doug Whitsett’s Senate seat if he had known Whitsett did not plan to run. It was unfair to McLane and anyone else who thought about running but perhaps did not want to challenge an incumbent.

Democrats don’t do well in that part of Oregon. The Republican primary can be the only real contest. Both Linthicum and Reschke went on to win their elections relatively comfortably.

This legislative session, State Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, introduced HB 2429 to attempt to prevent a similar thing from happening again. The bill gives office-seekers more time to apply if an incumbent state senator or state representative files for re-election and then withdraws.

It doesn’t matter if there was a deal or not in the withdrawal of the Whitsetts. Voters should pick who represents them. The incumbent officeholder should not be able to game the process to influence his or her successor. Lawmakers should pass HB 2429.

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The East Oregonian, Jan. 16, on rent control:

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek threw red meat to her Portland constituents by proposing legislation to create rent control. Portland rents have escalated as the city has become one of the nation’s most desirable locations. Kotek extended her rent control proposal beyond Portland’s boundaries, to all Oregon communities.

Rent control is now prohibited in Oregon statute.

America’s on-again, off-again experience with rent control began during World War II housing shortages. With almost 70 years of history in various cities such as New York, rent control has generated enormous economic study and literature.

Of rent control, one can say two things: it will generate a huge bureaucracy and it is fraught with unintended consequences that are not what hard-pressed tenants hope for.

South of us, in San Francisco, lies one of the most unfortunate conundrums, born of rent control. Writing in Willamette Week last June, Aaron Mesh explored the San Francisco example. “Many landlords either evict tenants or keep apartments empty,” wrote Mesh. “Roughly one in 12 housing units in San Francisco sit vacant, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Of San Francisco, Tim Duy of the University of Oregon economics department asked: “Has that really been effective at solving their problems? No. You think you’re helping people, but you are constraining the stock of affordable housing.”

For Speaker Kotek to propose rent control for all Oregon communities is an especially ridiculous concept.

Asking the Oregon Legislature to embark on consideration of rent control is a fool’s bargain. If this comes to serious legislative committee discussion, we hope that economists from Oregon’s universities will enlighten the statehouse.

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The Oregonian/OregonLive, Jan. 14, on Portland Harbor cleanup:

The biggest, most expensive federal action aimed at Portland in years arrived recently but was quickly lost on the local radar to snowstorms, icy streets and weather-related deaths. After 16 years of study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that more than 100 industries here or once doing business here, along with the city and the Port of Portland, must pay more than $1 billion to clean up a 10-mile segment of the Willamette River known as Portland Harbor.

No one disputes the harbor, historically the beating heart of Portland’s industrial commerce, is a toxic mess. PCBs and other nasty long-life chemicals line river-bottom sediments, in some places in concentrations so high as to signal public health warnings. Folks who regularly consume resident fish from the harbor are told about cancer. Federally protected runs of migratory fish passing through the harbor are to lesser degree exposed but potentially compromised, a concern to tribes with treaty rights to salmon. That the harbor would be designated a federal Superfund site was long predicted, and now the hard-fought tab for cleaning it up has arrived. With such certainty, it has been widely believed, Portland can finally restore to health a sick segment of its marquee river.

But the peace running through Portland about the EPA’s decision is tentative. And this bears close attention by participants in the cleanup and all who care, because the cleanup is critical for Portland and Oregon now and going forward.

Last summer the EPA estimated the cleanup would cost $746 million but has now expanded it significantly by making river quality metrics tougher, and more expensive, to meet. The Port of Portland, for example, an owner of several properties in the port but never a major producer of its historic pollution, fears its share of cleanup costs could well exceed $100 million - cash it does not have available and that cannot be drawn from airport operations, leaving the public exposed. Meanwhile, port officials chase Monsanto in court for having disseminated some of the PCBs that sully the Willamette. (Separately, the city has joined other West Coast cities in a class action lawsuit against Monsanto to generate cleanup money, as well.)

Still, plenty of folks are relieved, if not gleeful, that the EPA finally acted. That includes Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish, who will lead the city’s efforts to hasten the cleanup; the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and its new director Richard Whitman, who coordinated with tribes to help EPA find a cleanup of sufficient scale to avoid litigation; and several environmental advocates, who drove a grassroots campaign to toughen the EPA’s assessments and helped bring what seemed a never-ending federal process to a close.

But is Portland Superfund really real yet? Not quite. Sediment sampling from years ago needs redoing in places to gauge current toxicity levels, and yet more sampling will be required to fully characterize a dynamic river before specialists attempt to map out the first steps of a projected 13-year cleanup. Significantly, companies on the hook to pay for the cleanup - the harbor’s present industries as well as several long departed - must now meet with state and federal officials to show a willingness to get the job done and to pay their fair shares, still being tallied. Complicating everything, however, is something nobody predicted: a potential sea change in the views of the EPA, and possibly Congress, toward environmental regulation.

The inauguration Friday of Donald Trump, along with his nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, signal this potential change. The president-elect is a businessman who has disputed environmental policies. Pruitt has in his capacity as Oklahoma’s attorney general sued EPA multiple times, if unsuccessfully, to block environmental regulations. It could seriously fray, if not unravel, Portland’s Superfund plan if unhappy responsible parties were to exploit ideological shifts in the new administration by seeking relief from Portland Superfund cleanup responsibilities. Any such attempts, if successful, would not create a lasting win for business but long-term losses for Portland and Oregon and all businesses seeking to prosper in a healthy river environment.

The Portland Harbor cleanup, taking shape at last, needs to happen. The city and the state, along with Northwest tribes and concerned citizens, have worked too hard for too long to help EPA reach this milestone. A restored Willamette River will mean better health not only for wildlife and for Oregonians but also a promising economy, revved up by a harbor known for its natural and commercial resilience and productivity.

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The Daily Astorian, Jan. 12, on Dungeness crab season:

Some may wonder if the 2017 Dungeness crab season is ill-fated: First delayed by weeks to make certain crab were free of domoic acid toxin, delayed again after processors proposed lowering the price paid to crabbers, and then it started with a capsizing that could have cost five lives except for quick intervention by the Ballad.

Today’s crabbers and fishermen have to be smart and rational to survive - literally and economically.

Crab around the mouth of the Columbia this season never exceeded safe levels of marine toxin, but the industry is united in striving to preserve the reputation of Dungeness crab as a pure, premium product. For this reason alone, it’s sensible to take every precaution.

Delays in the season also often have strategic components involving jockeying over price, and competition over crabbing grounds. Sometimes crabbers wait to allow an early-season storm to pass. In this instance, the closure went longer than most anyone wanted.

Missing the holiday celebrations when crab are a popular menu option led to downward pressure on the ex-vessel price. Beyond this, some West Coast processors and fishermen have been playing hard ball for generations, with the situation becoming more pronounced with monopolization on the processor side. As a society, we should always advocate for fair compensation for all economic players.

Danger in the Dungeness fishery is infamous. The risks all argue for decent paydays and for continuing scrutiny of safety measures.

It must be said that many crabbers resent and distrust outside efforts to intervene in how the fishery is conducted. Deference is warranted in such a specialized field. However, it must be wondered whether there are ways to improve crabbing’s cost/benefit ratio. It is inherently hazardous to make a mad dash out into the wild Pacific over one of the world’s most notorious river bars in the middle of storm season. Regulators and the industry must continue trying to minimize risks and maximize local economic benefits.

There is a popular saying making the rounds of local social media: “Fishermen’s live matter.” They do indeed. We owe it to them to be supportive.

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