Senate advances low-carbon fuel law
SALEM — A bitterly divided Oregon Senate advanced a climate change bill Tuesday, handing resigning Gov. John Kitzhaber the final legislative victory of his nearly four decades in Oregon politics on his last full day in office.
Republicans were unsuccessful in several attempts to derail the measure, which aims to spur investment in alternative transportation fuels. It was a top priority for the departing Democratic governor.
Using their expanded majority following last year's election, Democrats ignored Republican pleas to refer the measure to voters or delay it altogether.
GOP lawmakers said a policy associated with Kitzhaber should not go forward amid state and federal investigations prompted by allegations Kitzhaber's fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, a green energy consultant, used her relationship to land consulting contracts.
"This policy is risky and not thoroughly vetted in the public," said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.
Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, the No. 2 Democrat, said Hayes' environmental work did not involve the carbon initiative.
The bill was approved in a 17-13 vote after Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose joined all 12 Republicans in opposition. It goes next to the House, where it's likely to get a similarly friendly reception from majority Democrats. The Senate has long been a roadblock in Kitzhaber's attempt to expand the fuels program, even as he was able to maneuver most of his other priorities through the Legislature.
The bill would extend Oregon's low-carbon fuel standard, an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that was first approved in 2009 but was never implemented. The so-called clean fuels program expires at the end of the year unless lawmakers extend it.
"This is a good program. One that is good for our planet, good for our state, one that will benefit our children and our children's children," said Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland.
The program requires gasoline and diesel producers to reduce the amount of carbon emissions associated with extracting, refining, transporting and burning their fuels. They can achieve reduced emissions by blending more biofuels, using lower-emitting sources of crude oil or buying credits to pay for alternative fuel technologies. Kitzhaber and other proponents say the latter option would nurture a fledgling industry.
Critics say fuel prices would rise. They say it would gouge Oregonians through higher prices for fuel and for products transported on trucks. The program's supporters say price hikes would be minimal, and the law would allow carbon restrictions to ease if prices rise too substantially.