Ore. clean fuels standard on its way to governor’s desk 

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, March 6, 2015

After a grueling 5 ½-hour debate on the House floor yesterday, Oregon legislators voted by a narrow margin to allow the state’s low-carbon fuel standard to take effect later this year.

The bill in question, S.B. 324, was voted forward by the Senate two weeks ago over Republican objections (ClimateWire, Feb. 18). It now heads to the desk of recently appointed Gov. Kate Brown (D), who has indicated that she will sign the bill.

Originally passed in 2009, Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard — which aims to cut the carbon content of fuel burned in-state by 10 percent by 2025 — came with a sunset clause the would have shut down the program this year. S.B. 324 removed that clause, allowing the standard to start in 2016.

While Oregon’s House, Senate and governor all lean toward the left of the political spectrum, S.B. 324 tested even the House’s solid Democratic majority, with four Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans against the bill.

It passed, ultimately, on a razor-thin 31-29 vote.

Before the vote, however, Republicans launched a marathon of arguments and procedural hurdles to slow its progress. Lawmakers revived arguments made in the Senate two weeks ago, saying that investigations into the former Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, and his girlfriend, Cylvia Hayes, should be concluded before the bill could move forward.

Next up, perhaps, is Wash.

Kitzhaber resigned in mid-February amid a rising chorus of allegations that the couple had crossed ethical and perhaps legal boundaries by conflating Hayes’ consulting work with her role as the state’s first lady.

An investigation by the state’s attorney general is ongoing.

Opponents also raised concerns over the standard’s effect on fuel prices, which the government estimates will increase 4 to 19 cents per gallon by the end of program’s 10-year implementation period. In comments made on the House floor preceding the vote, Rep. Cliff Bentz (R) said the standard amounted to a “stealth tax” on gas.

Originally scheduled for 11 a.m. local time, the vote dragged on into the afternoon as Republican House Leader Mike McClane moved first to have the bill sent back to the Energy and Environment Committee, then to have the vote suspended pending the investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes. Democrats overruled both motions.

Democrats spoke out in favor of the bill, saying that Oregon needs to move on a fuel standard to keep pace with laws already on the books in California and British Columbia. “The stakes are to high [not] to act,” said Rep. Paul Holvey (D), speaking on the floor before the vote. “We need to act. We need to join our West Coast neighbors and do this.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is also pushing for a low carbon fuel standard, although he faces the challenge of a split Legislature. A clause in a long-awaited transportation package advanced by the Washington state Senate earlier this week stipulated that funding for buses and bike paths could be stripped away if the governor moves unilaterally on a fuel standard (Greenwire, March 3).