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Cash-conscious firms will come for the perks

If we want to shout to the world that we don't want high-tech, solar/wind power or other manufacturing, we may have our wish.

Businesses once flocked to Oregon because of cheap power. Now they are leaving and taking their jobs with them. And Oregon's about dead last in job creation.

Yet we may lose one of our best incentives for attracting and keeping jobs Ñ the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's Pollution Control Credit Program. A Tom McCall inspiration, it links economics and environment by awarding tax credits for part of the cost of building or upgrading pollution controls. The credit is useless unless you put someone to work building or operating something to reduce pollution and you make a profit.

It's not easy creating jobs in Oregon. In some states it's illegal to be stricter than required by the federal government. But some Oregon environmental standards are 10 times stricter than required by the feds, and some programs are not federally mandated at all. But Oregon industry has supported tougher standards Ñ if we can stay competitive and create jobs.

Who benefits? Anyone working for high-tech, a manufacturing company or anyone doing business with them. And the environment. Big time.

Better still, the current proposal includes solar and wind power. Why not attract this new industry to Oregon?

So what are the reasons for not extending this DEQ program? Here's what you might hear:

• The 'E' word. Fact: Portland General Electric was awarded credits helping to hold down rates and is owned by Enron Corp. PGE also employs hundreds of your neighbors who pay taxes and don't like being smeared by association. If we use Enron as a way to remove a rare incentive for high-tech and other employers, how does that help?

• Standards sliced. Fact: This is false. In most cases, your controls must be even better than required to receive the maximum credit.

• Chipper abuse. Fact: The DEQ wood chipper program uses a whopping 1.2 percent of the credit dollars. They want people to chip instead of burning waste (legal in much of Oregon for land clearing), a huge source of pollution.

• Have to do it anyway. Fact: To get the full credit, you must exceed what's required by Oregon law (tougher than many other states), be a recycling facility or locate in an economically distressed area.

• Regulation redux. Fact: The idea that environmental rules haven't continually tightened since the 1970s is false. We spend millions of dollars each year meeting new rules often tougher than required by the federal government.

What we need now is bipartisan, thoughtful support by those who want to make this program better, not politics. We won't help education by having Oregon continue to be seen as unfriendly for investment.

Only one state doesn't offer some type of environmental tax incentive to attract and keep jobs. If we are serious about economic recovery, we won't become the second.

Is Oregon 'Open for Business'?

We'll see.

John Ledger is environmental affairs director for Associated Oregon Industries. He lives in Salem with his wife, Julie, and several small animals left behind by their two grown children.