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Kulongoski previews green transportation plan

Governor says his package for the 2009 legislature will be most environmentally sensitive in Oregon history

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski promised Friday that his next transportation budget would balance mobility needs with growing concern over climate change.

Speaking at a luncheon put on by the Oregon Environmental Council, Kulongoski's red tie stood out in the drab, windowless room at the Oregon Convention Center, where 225 public officials, business owners and environmental advocates munched quietly at full attention.

To many, transportation is a cause - not solution - to global warming. Even Kulongoski admitted that it will be a major challenge to improve the state's transportation infrastructure while at the same time reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, especially as the region's population continues and the demands of a global economy continue to increase.

Energy security

But, Kulongoski said, transportation and climate change are not conflicting policy issues. He aims to prove that next year when he will present a transportation package to the Oregon Legislature that he said will be the largest, greenest and most strategic in Oregon history.

Kulongoski said the goal of the package will be to develop a transportation system that will provide energy security, and that serves people and businesses without sacrificing the environment.

He explained it will encompass four areas: a low-carbon fuel standard; car technology improvements; reducing the amount that people drive (commonly referred to as vehicles mile traveled); and improving overall efficiency of the state's transportation system.

Both California and British Columbia have passed low-carbon fuel standards, which mandate fuels that yield less greenhouse-gas emissions, not just when burned but also when produced. If Washington and Oregon follow suit, Kulongoski said, the fuel supply for the entire West Coast could be standardized for the mandate.

Congestion pricing

Kulongoski also wants consumers to have more choices when it comes to hybrid and plug-in car technology, as well as alternative fuels, but, he added, the state needs to encourage people to drive less, too. To that end, he supports extending tax credits for telecommuting, carpooling, biking and public transportation.

And Kulongoski broached the touchy subject of congestion pricing, which would work in the form of tolls that would be based on time and location.

Driving at peak hours in certain locations would cost the most. While such tolls could work to cut down on driving, the governor was not clear about whether he would push for it.

But, Kulongoski said, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the state, many approaches would need to work simultaneously. Left unchecked, he said, higher temperatures, stronger storms, and flooding that could result from global warming will cost the state millions of dollars in damage to the state's farms, forests and fisheries.

The governor did not directly address the status of the Columbia River Crossing, the project to improve or replace the Interstate 5 bridge between Oregon and Washington.

The event also included a panel discussion that touched on subjects ranging from talk about rail improvements in Southwest Oregon from Oregon state Rep. Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) to lessons on transportation from Washington state Rep. David Upthegrove (D-South King County, Wash.).

Major sponsors for the event included Metro regional government, the Port of Portland, NW Natural Gas, Pacific Power and the Energy Trust of Oregon.

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