Emissions bill highlights state's green legislation

The Legislature stayed away from tough environmental issues during the monthlong session that just ended, but green groups are happy to see some of their top priorities enacted — especially a bill intended to help cities reduce greenhouse gases as they grow.

That bill directs the Department of Transportation and the Department of Land Conservation and Development to develop a strategy for meeting statewide targets for reducing greenhouse gases caused by transportation. State agencies will work with cities to develop ways to meet targets for those emissions through land-use and transportation planning.

"It's longer-range planning," said Eric Stachon, spokesman for 1000 Friends of Oregon, a land use watchdog group.

"In the end over the next couple years — in the next decade and beyond — we're talking about basically transforming communities in a way to give people more transportation choices and create healthier communities where people can walk, bike or take transit and be less reliant on the car for making trips," he said.

The bill grew out of the 2007 Legislature's target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by the year 2050.

No new funding is attached to the legislation.

But Andrea Durbin, of the Oregon Environmental Council, said the legislation will help Oregon communities attract federal funding for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We need resources to make this happen," she said.

Also approved was a 10-year extension on Oregon's longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling for oil and gas, and expansion of a program encouraging use of alternative energy, known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard, to include plants that burn forest thinnings built before 1995. The bill had broad support from fishing groups and coastal communities.

Lawmakers also approved an overhaul of the business energy tax credit. The credit helped Oregon become a leader in generating wind energy.

But the Oregonian newspaper exposed lax controls in the program. The reforms are intended to increase oversight, and hang onto a much-needed $55 million for the state treasury in the current biennium, and $86 million in 2011-2013.

"The reforms to the Business Energy Tax Credit program provide greater accountability for taxpayers while also ensuring the program remains a strong economic development tool that continues to attract jobs and investment to communities across Oregon," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a statement.

Environmentalists' biggest disappointment came when the Senate shot down a bill to add Oregon to the growing list of states banning baby bottles and sippy cups made from plastic containing the hardening agent bisphenol A over fears it disrupts hormones in young children.

Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, argued that while his own family avoided plastics containing the chemical, he did not want to see passage of the bill lead to a future bill that would hurt Oregon's food processing industry by banning the substance in food can liners.

Supporters say they will be back again in 2011, when they hope the longer session will give them more time to make their case.

An ambitious effort to make Oregon the first state to ban plastic bags at grocery checkouts fell to industry opposition.

The same fate met a bill to increase public access to rivers on private property, after rural landowners objected.

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