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Clarify Web site

Oregon’s health officials claim on a state Web site that complying with the new law banning smoking in bars is, and here we quote: “easy.”

After perusing the Web site we weren’t convinced this is so.

Adhering to certain parts of the law, we’ll concede, shouldn’t severely tax tavern owners.

Putting up some “no smoking” signs and hiding the ash trays, for instance, is pretty light work.

But there’s one “easy” task listed on the Department of Human Services’s Smokefree Workplace Law Web site which, it seems to us, could cause quite a hassle for pub owners.

Under the heading “complying with the law is easy” is this:  “encourage employees who smoke to quit smoking.”

The state suggests one way by which business owners can accomplish this: “Encourage (employees who smoke) to call Oregon's toll-free QUIT LINE at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).


Editorial from The (La Grande) Observer

The (La Grande) Observer:

It’s a funny thing about environmental groups. The more they claim to do for forest health, the unhealthier the forests become. Lawsuits and appeals of timber projects and sales go on and on, while trees die and go unharvested, while combustibles continue to pile up on the forest floors.

Legal wrestling matches drag on (and on), and conflagrations break out every year. The result? Blighted land, squandered taxpayer dollars and a wasted resource.

The controversy touched a new height in absurdity recently, when a federal district court judge effectively slapped down a U.S. Forest Service policy designed to promote work that reduces the risk of wildfires. Two local sales already evaluated for positive and negative environmental impacts were stopped dead in their tracks.

The Forest Service policy, adopted in 2003, exempts from appeal certain logging projects on 1,000 acres or fewer, and also prescribed burning on 4,500 or fewer acres. The policy is designed to allow some constructive, productive work to proceed in a timely manner.


Watching Congress on wilderness

If the Senate’s action this week foreshadows the future of public land legislation under Democratic control, that future could be interesting indeed.

And potentially disappointing for advocates — and we included ourselves among them — of an equitable federal policy.

Senators had hardly arrived at the Capitol when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 (S.22). The act would, among many other things, designate as wilderness five areas in Oregon, totaling about 203,000 acres of public land (none of those areas is in Northeastern Oregon).

We don’t oppose creating any of those wilderness areas.


Don’t have a cow, now

The government’s getting ready to tax cow flatulence and burps.

Sure it sounds ludicrous.

But the government’s involved, a fact which makes plausible even the most hare-brained of schemes.

We certainly won’t try to convince anyone that the government’s incapable of imposing nonsensical and economically ruinous laws.

But neither do we want Baker County ranchers to worry unduly that they’ll lose their operation if they can’t teach their herds some manners.

Here’s what the government has actually done:

Last July the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced what it calls an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” regarding “potential regulatory approaches” to dealing with greenhouse gases.


City plows ahead and does its job

The great thing about snow is that it melts.

Glaciers are rather more persistent, of course, but there aren’t any of those in Baker County.

Yet the temporary nature of snow is small consolation to anyone whose car is marooned behind a chest-high wall of congealed slush.

Or to someone who lives along a street where the blacktop hasn’t been visible for a couple of weeks.

Both situations have happened this winter in Baker City.

Both have happened in plenty of winters past and, barring a radical shift in climate, both will continue to happen.

On balance, though, the snow that accumulates on our streets is more an annoyance than the near-disaster that some critics of the city’s snow-control strategy seem to believe it is.

In general the city deals with snow and ice in an appropriate and competent way.


FOREST’S BIG BITE COULD CHOKE PROGRESS

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has been nibbling for close to two decades now at the problem of overcrowded timber stands that are abnormally susceptible to wildfires.

But now Wallowa-Whitman officials want to take a big bite.

They’re proposing a series of five timber sales on the southern flanks of the Wallowa Mountains that would constitute the largest logging job on the forest since the early 1990s.

The Snow Basin project, which is near Eagle Creek north of Richland, could start in 2010 and result in as much as 70 million board-feet of timber being sold over five years.

The Wallowa-Whitman hasn’t sold more than 30 million board-feet, with all timber sales combined, in any single fiscal year since 2001.


MILEAGE TAX HAS NO TRACTION NOW

For a guy who frets frequently, and publicly, about climate change, pollution and America’s thirst for petroleum, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has a funny way of showing his concern.

Kulongoski’s latest idea might actually discourage Oregonians from driving fuel-efficient cars.

If you’re partial to full-size pickup trucks and similarly hefty rigs, however, you’ll probably second the governor’s motion.

Kulongoski announced this week that he’ll lobby the Legislature, which convenes next month, to jumpstart his plan to replace Oregon’s gas tax of 24 cents per gallon with a mileage tax.

The governor hasn’t suggested an amount. A 10-month experiment last year that involved 300 drivers in the Portland area used a tax of 1.2 cents per mile driven.

If your car gets more than 20 mpg, a mileage tax at that level probably would cost you more than the gas tax does now.

So much for that Prius purchase penciling out.

To be fair to the governor, we’re not suggesting that he’s a hypocrite.


WORK SESSIONS WORKABLE FOR CITY COUNCIL

We don’t care whether the Baker City Council calls its get-togethers “meetings” or “work sessions.”

We care a great deal, though, about whether councilors get answers to all their questions before they vote on matters such as how they’ll spend our money.

Or how much of our money the Council thinks the city needs.

And so we endorse City Manager Steve Brocato’s proposal to change one of the Council’s two monthly gatherings from a “meeting” to a “work session.”

The idea, which the Council probably will discuss during its annual goal-setting session in early 2009, is that councilors would benefit if, once a month, they scheduled a work session to talk over topics but agreed beforehand that they wouldn’t actually cast any votes during the session.

Work sessions would be public meetings, of course, so long as at least four of the seven councilors attended.

During work sessions councilors could not only debate issues, but also query Brocato and other city officials about the purposes and potential effects of items on the Council’s agenda.


E-Cycle: It’s easy, free

For most people an old, obsolete TV or computer monitor is trash, albeit heavy, space-occupying trash.

Trouble is, tossing such stuff into a landfill can cause problems more serious than clogging your closet capacity.

Polluting groundwater with poisonous heavy metals, for instance.

Televisions, computer and computer monitors contain toxins such as mercury and lead.

Americans threw away about 232 million of these devices in 2007, but just 18 percent were recycled rather than landfilled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency estimates that 235 million more are taking up the aforementioned closet space.


Cooperation, not antagonism

The Baker School District needs to save money.

The Oregon School Employees Association wants to protect its members who work for the district as cooks, bus drivers and in other non-teaching jobs.

Both goals are reasonable.

What’s also reasonable is to expect that district and union officials will work together to try to achieve both objectives.

Their relationship is hardly amicable now, though, and we hope they try to mend it before it erodes any further.

The animosity dates to the summer, when Superintendent Don Ulrey, in an effort to curb costs, cut one cook position.

Although the affected employee was transferred to a different job in the district, the decision prompted OSEA to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the district. Union official Mary Kay Brant contends Ulrey should have told the union before transferring the OSEA worker.

Perhaps, but considering the district moved, rather than fired, the employee, the complaint seems unnecessary.


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