SALEM, Ore. -- It was a very green year for the Oregon Legislature in 2007, with bills to promote renewable energy, curb greenhouse gas emissions and expand a pioneering bottle bill among the major initiatives.

It's been a different story so far in the 2009 session. To a large degree, green legislation has been overshadowed by a struggling economy that has left lawmakers scrambling to figure out how to put Oregonians back to work and fill a nearly $4 billion budget hole.

With just over five weeks remaining before the session adjourns, no major piece of environmental legislation has yet landed on Gov. Ted Kulongoski's desk.

"When you have a 12 percent unemployment rate, that has to be the focus of people in this building," Kulongoski spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor said. "Often, environmental bills along with other good policies take a back seat."

Still, the governor and the Legislature's majority Democrats think they have a decent shot at passing some significant green bills this year.

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High on their list is a piece of Kulongoski's global warming package to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks through new standards for fuel, tires and replacement parts. The bill recently won House approval -- although just barely -- and is pending in the Senate.

House Democrats, meanwhile, have made a top priority of enacting a bill to encourage property owners to invest in energy efficiency upgrades by expanding a state loan program.

House Majority Leader Mary Nolan said it will help combat climate change and create jobs by dramatically increasing the number of efficiency projects around the state.

"The biggest environmental accomplishment this session will be our success in blending job creation with environmental stewardship," the Portland Democrat said.

There is little doubt, however, that this is a tougher political climate for green bills than in 2007, when the economy was humming along.

Kulongoski came into the session hoping to further "green up" Oregon's business climate and combat global warming. But now he is having to fend off a backlash against measures enacted in 2007, including ethanol content standards for gasoline and the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Largely due to strong opposition from utilities and industrial companies, Oregon earlier in the session set aside plans -- at least for now -- to participate in a regional cap and trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by those sectors.

There are still negotiations over how the state's utilities will be required to reach Oregon's greenhouse gas reduction goal of 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Opponents of Kulongoski's proposal have used the economic recession as one of their arguments against an idea they say could jack up utility rates and other costs for consumers and businesses.

"Maybe a big investment in the green revolution or things like that are OK as disposable income options," said Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day. "But when push comes to shove and the economy is bad, then it's all about people being able to afford rent, and heat, and lights and putting food on the table."

One of the biggest environmental accomplishments of the 2007 session was the move to expand Oregon's bottle bill by requiring Oregonians to shell out a nickel deposit on every bottle of water they buy. The law previously applied to soda pop and beer bottles and cans.

But a further expansion to Oregon's bottle bill has had a rocky path through the Legislature this session, with the bill being shuttled back to committee several times for more work.

The bill adds new beverage bottles to the current law, including coffees, juices and sports drinks. It would also increase the container refund to a dime from a nickel in 2017 if the state isn't hitting a return rate of 80 percent or more.

However, the bill hasn't been wildly endorsed by environmentalists or by grocers and distributors who say it's too soon to embark on an additional expansion.

Economic arguments also have been at play in another environmental dispute over whether to ban field burning by grass seed farmers, a practice that opponents say causes health problems for people.

A bill in the Senate would prohibit the longstanding practice of burning to clear fields of stubble, disease and pests, starting this year.

Because farmers have staunchly opposed limits on a practice they say is important to the Willamette Valley's grass seed business, Senate sponsors have amended the bill to instead ban the practice in 2010 to give the industry more time to adapt.

The industry still opposes the bill, and there is still a question mark whether the bill will garner enough votes to pass.

Chris Hagerbaumer of the Oregon Environmental Council said the shaky economy and the state's dire budget situation have made environmental bills a tougher sell this session.

A case in point, she said, was a bill the council supported that would have required school districts to use "green" cleaning products -- those not containing toxic chemicals -- in school buildings as a way to protect children's health.

"Some of these green cleaning products actually cost less," Hagerbaumer said. "But that bill was halted because there was this thought that it might have a big fiscal impact on schools."

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