Green political agenda withers in recession

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by By JEFF BARNARD, AP Writer

kgw.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 3:28 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 6 at 1:22 PM

The state that invented the bottle bill couldn't get an ambitious expansion through the Legislature this year, and the governor's grand plans for creating a Western carbon market to combat global warming flopped.

With money tight in a down economy, it was tough for even a strong Democratic majority to make the state greener than it already is - unless someone else was paying.

In those cases, environmental interests thrived - winning creation of Oregon's first marine reserves after years of bitter conflict, a new low-carbon fuel standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, and a trust fund to remove Klamath River dams that have blocked salmon for a century.

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"Last session we had a lot of low-hanging fruit," said Sen. Jackie Dingfelder, D-Portland, who shepherded many of the bills as chairwoman of the Senate environment committee. "This year we had to take on some more challenging issues."

One that was not ripe was Gov. Ted Kulongoski's ambitious attempt to expand the bottle bill - first enacted in 1971 with a nickel deposit on beer and soft drinks cans and bottles - to include wine, liquor, coffee, tea, juice and sports drinks, and boost the deposit to a dime.

Eleven states now demand deposits on beverage containers, and 13 considered legislation the past two years, according to the National Congress of State Legislatures.

Many were looking for new sources of revenue in tough economic times, and Connecticut cashed in, making unclaimed deposits the property of the state.

In Oregon, grocers didn't like the idea, and concessions made to appease them turned supporters against it.

Look for it to come back when the Legislature convenes in February, said Dingfelder.

The bills that succeeded tended to not rely on the beleaguered state budget, said Mike Carrier, natural resources adviser to the governor.

Legislatures across the nation faced the same tight budgets, with similar results, said Emily Templin at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks legislative trends. Forty states debated 299 bills related to climate change, and only 20 of them in 10 states were enacted.

In Oregon, the $1 million for research and regulation that will go into the two small fishing-free marine reserves created inside the state's 3-mile limit came from a lawsuit against the owners of the wrecked cargo ship New Carissa, whose rusting hulk was removed from the beach near the entrance to Coos Bay last year.

The trust fund to pay $180 million toward removal of aging hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River to help struggling salmon runs comes from a surcharge on electricity customers of PacifiCorp, the dams' owners.

The $15 million to start buying 95,000 acres of private timberland near Gilchrist, establishing the first new state forest since 1946, comes from lottery-backed bonds.

Environmentalists overcame a strong push from the chemical industry to win a ban on the sale of consumer goods containing the latest form of flame retardants made from the chemical bromine, known as deca-BDEs, by the year 2011. Oregon joins Vermont, Maine and Washington with laws regulating the chemical.

But a companion effort to ban the plastic additive bisphenol B from baby bottles and children's toys failed in Oregon, and did not fare well nationwide. Legislation was introduced in 20 states, but only Minnesota and Connecticut enacted bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Evan Manvel, legislative director for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, said the 20 environmental bills passed was "an impressive record," but progress on global warming was not strong enough. The biggest disappointment was Kulongoski's plan to put Oregon in the forefront of a regional cap and trade system endorsed by Western governors to drive down greenhouse gases.

No other state did any better. The effort was deflated by Congress, where the House passed a national cap and trade bill, whose future remains uncertain in the Senate.

Discounting cap and trade, Kulongoski sustainability adviser David Van't Hof said their climate agenda was successful. Besides the low-carbon fuel standard, which could accelerate development of ethanol from forest thinnings, people who put solar panels on their homes will be paid by utilities for excess electricity, and building codes will reduce home energy use.

"This session keeps Oregon very much in the forefront of almost anyone in the country on energy and climate policy," he said.

Business interests did not oppose higher fines for polluters, figuring that cheaters should have to pay to keep the playing field level, said John Ledger, a lobbyist for Associated Oregon Industries. The fines go into the general fund.

"The main focus going into the session was to avoid job losses, on environmental issues especially," said Ledger, and they joined forces with unions and Republicans. "I think we were successful avoiding things that would cause an economic downturn."

Going into the session with no environmental agenda of their own, Republicans worked on "damage control." They feel they succeeded on their top priority, scuttling cap and trade, said Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, though they could not stop a ban on a destination resort in the Metolius River Basin.

Ferrioli said he is hoping that when the costs of environmental legislation this session come home to roost - particularly the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when the state already ranks 41st in the nation on carbon footprint - voters will look to the GOP to send the pendulum swinging the other way.

"I think we have swung so far to one side, that I think the whole electorate will help us push it back toward the middle," he said.

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