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A day in the life of Sen. Olsen

Olsen, with Republican block, opposes low carbon fuel standards bill


Photo Credit: ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Sen. Alan Olsen prepares to give a speech Tuesday, Feb.17, at the state Capitol opposing Senate Bill 324, which extends Oregons low carbon fuel standards.Referring to himself as a “skeptic” of global warming, State Sen. Alan Olsen rushed between display boards and a stack of papers on his desk as he prepared to oppose a bill that would extend Oregon’s low carbon fuel standards.

The day was turning out to be not-so-typical for the Republican senator from District 20, which includes the communities of Estacada, Boring, Damascus, Barlow, Canby, Oregon City, Gladstone and Johnson City.

Tuesday, Feb. 17 was former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s last full day in office, and the air in the Capitol in Salem was tense.

Olsen called to his chief of staff, Tony Miller, for various papers as he prepared his minority-report speech on Senate Bill 324.

The bill removes the sunset on provisions related to low carbon fuel standards first approved in 2009 and set to expire at the end of this year.

SB 324 is largely favored by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

According to a summary on the Oregon State Legislature website, Senate Bill 324 “Extends (the) target date for meeting certain emission goals under phased implementation of low carbon fuel standards,” “requires Environmental Quality Commission to adopt by rule provisions for managing and containing costs of compliance with low carbon fuel standards,” “prohibits fuels that contain biodiesel from being considered alternative fuels unless certain standards are met” and “adds certain exemptions to low carbon fuel standards.”

Democrats champion the bill as a pragmatic response to climate change, making Oregon a leader in lowering carbon emissions from automotive exhaust.

Republicans oppose the bill as a hidden gas tax that benefits private clean-fuel businesses, and claim it’s inappropriate to consider a bill tied to the influence-peddling scandal of Kitzhaber’s fianceé Cylvia Hayes while the federal investigation into her actions is incomplete.

Olsen, the vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said he also questions the science behind the claim that Oregon’s low-carbon fuels policy will significantly protect the environment.

“(Low carbon fuel standards) is basically a social experiment,” Olsen said on the Senate floor. “We Oregonians are in the Petri dish. It requires people to drive less to work. It requires us to take more public transportation. It requires us to purchase new technology, some that are not even available.”

In a show of opposition that lasted nearly four hours, Republicans tried several motions such as referring the bill to a statewide vote in a November 2015 special election, sending the bill back to committee and other efforts to halt or delay a vote on Senate Bill 324.

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, one of several Democrats who spoke in favor of the bill, said she voted for the clean fuels program in 2009 because the bill was a “reasonable and common sense step” toward reducing greenhouse emissions.

“Distractions and far-fetched accusations aside, this is a well-vetted policy that addresses one of the biggest challenges of our time: human-caused climate change,” Rosenbaum said.

“Short of cutting the clean fuels program, they will never be satisfied,” Rosenbaum said of opponents to the bill.

Multiple efforts on the part of Republicans to halt or postpone a vote failed largely along party lines.

Olsen wasn’t surprised.

“I’d bet you 100 bucks it will be 18 to 12 all day long,” Olsen said referring to his expectations that the votes on low carbon fuel standards would fall along party lines. “It really should be our job to negotiate and get to the middle, but when you’re in the majority, there’s no negotiating.”

When SB 324 finally went to a vote, it passed 17 to 13, with Sen. Betsy Johnson the lone Democrat voting against the bill.

Following the vote, Sens. Olsen and Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, released a joint press release stating, “The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality claims the low carbon fuels mandate will raise gas prices between $0.06 and $.19 per gallon. Independent studies show the effect could be over $1 per gallon. Tax measures are required to originate in the Oregon House and go through a thorough process examining revenue impacts. Because the tax in the low carbon fuels mandate is ‘hidden’ through a program that requires fuel producers to buy credits directly from renewable energy special interests, the bill bypassed the revenue process.”

“This program will harm Oregon families and small businesses,” Olsen was quoted as saying in the press release. “Because it relies on a fuel supply that doesn’t exist in commercial quantities, Oregonians could have to pay as much as $285 million additionally per year at the pump without making a dent in reducing carbon emissions. Oregon voters deserve the chance to decide if this is a trade they are willing to make.”

Democrats lauded the passage of the bill in the Senate.

“Today, Oregon has taken a step toward joining the west coast in adopting plans for creating a cleaner fuel future; a future that doesn’t depend solely on foreign oil; a future that is more secure; a future that offers cleaner choices for consumers,” Sen. Chris Edwards, D- Eugene, said. “The West Coast is the fifth-largest economy in the world and Oregon is a significant part of that. What we do on the West Coast actually matters. This program, along with action from our West Coast neighbors, will forever change what is possible in the United States.”

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Environment and a hearing and possible work session was scheduled for today.

Though SB 324 took the spotlight Feb. 17, Olsen’s day wasn’t over, he still had to head to the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness where hearings would be held for two of his bills and the Senate Committee on Human Services and Early Childhood, for which he is the vice-chair.

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