Legislators shift emphasis
At their annual summit in January, Oregon business leaders made sustainability a core strategy. Last week the Oregon House advanced that strategy by passing a package of legislation on biofuels. It came out of the House Committee on Energy and Environment, where I serve as a member.
The time is right for a shift to biofuels and other renewable energy sources. Burning fossil fuels, like coal and oil, releases carbon dioxide, a major cause of global warming.
Unlike fossil fuels, which come from plants that grew millions of years ago, biofuels are produced from plants grown today. They burn cleaner than fossil fuels and the cycle of growing the plants and burning fuel made from them does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Our legislation focuses on biodiesel and ethanol. Biodiesel is a vegetable oil extracted from seeds that can be grown in Oregon, like canola. It's burned in oil furnaces and in diesel cars and trucks.
Ethanol is blended into gasoline to expand its volume and cut harmful emissions. Currently ethanol comes from corn grown mainly in the Midwest. But a new technology hopes to make ethanol from cellulose, the fiber in straw and forest wastes.
The challenge is how to develop Oregon production of biodiesel and ethanol when they must compete with petroleum, which the federal government subsidizes in many ways. The competition gets tough as oil prices swing up and down in the global market.
One way to promote Oregon biofuels production is to give tax breaks. Our legislation increases tax credits for business and homeowners who install renewable energy equipment.
But tax breaks just spend the Oregon's general fund by reducing the revenue the state otherwise receives. And they're rarely eliminated, even when the need no longer exists.
Therefore, our biofuels legislation also creates two renewable fuel standards for Oregon - requiring that diesel contain 2 percent and later 5 percent biodiesel and that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol. The standards go into effect when Oregon production of biodiesel and ethanol exceeds certain thresholds.
The only votes against the biofuels legislation last week were on the renewable fuel standards. Opponents argued that the state shouldn't require Oregonians to use renewable fuels, even in small percentages.
Despite this argument, I strongly support the renewable fuel standards. Unless we assure local biofuel producers of a stable market, we cannot expect them to make a risky investment in this new technology. Furthermore, providing a local market for oil seeds and wood waste will support Oregon's farmers and forest owners.
I do not expect Oregon to become a major producer of biofuels. But I believe supporting biofuels will advance Oregon's broader reputation for sustainability. One of our greatest economic opportunities lies in becoming an intellectual center for renewable energy.
Several major developers of wind energy have their offices in Oregon. Researchers at Oregon State University are doing cutting edge work on new technologies. A pilot project for harnessing wave action is being developed on the coast. Other research aims at a hydrogen fuel cell that emits only water vapor.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38.