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Town hall talk to include energy

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Most of our energy comes from burning gasoline, diesel, heating oil, coal, and natural gas. As state representative for Lake Oswego and nearby areas, I believe we should reduce our dependence on these fossil fuels.

Lawmaking often requires hard choices. But the decision to pursue alternative energy sources is not that tough.

Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - a major factor in global warming, according to the great weight of scientific opinion. Our dependence on oil produced in the Middle East deepens America's involvement in the dangerous conflicts of that region. And use of fossil fuels yields little to our local economy because Oregon produces almost none.

By contrast, Oregon shows great promise as a center for renewable energy. Large wind farms already dot the wheat-growing lands along the Oregon side of the Columbia River and more projects are planned. Oregon State University is developing a new technology that harnesses wave action along the coast. Both these sources can help generate the electricity we will depend on in coming decades. Oregon also has solar and geothermal resources.

OSU is doing cutting-edge work on other energy sources. Researchers are developing hydrogen fuel cells that emit only water vapor beyond the energy they generate. Others are trying to solve the environmental problems with nuclear technology.

Biofuels probably offer the greatest opportunity in the short run. Biodiesel can be burned in our existing furnaces for heat. Ethanol and biodiesel can power the vehicles we already use to move ourselves and goods from place to place.

Biodiesel is a vegetable oil extracted from crops grown in Oregon, like canola. It's burned in oil furnaces and in diesel cars and trucks.

Ethanol has been used for decades as a component in gasoline to expand its volume and cut harmful emissions. Traditionally ethanol was derived from grain -primarily corn. Now it can be produced from cellulose, the fiber in straw and forest wastes. These raw materials too are grown in the state.

Oregon farmers can be key players in the biofuel industry, which will develop in response to market forces. But we lawmakers can help this process.

One way is to offer tax breaks to producers of biofuels. This has been a favorite way for the state to encourage desirable activities.

But tax breaks have their downside. They're really just a way of spending tax revenue because they reduce what the state otherwise has available to pay for public services. And they're rarely eliminated, even when the need no longer exists.

Another way is to enact a renewable fuel standard for Oregon. It would require that fuels sold here contain a certain percentage of biodiesel or ethanol. Such a standard would assure a reliable market for companies considering an investment in new plant and equipment to produce biofuels.

I'm holding a town hall at the Nature Center in Tryon Creek State Park at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 22. The town hall is co-hosted with Sen. Richard Devlin and features Secretary of State Bill Bradbury as a special guest. The discussion will include renewable energy.

I would like to hear from local residents about this or any other legislative issue. You can attend the Aug. 22 town hall or contact me by e-mail at rep.gregmacphersonstate.or.us

Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.