A compromise reached last week between environmentalists and major Portland utility companies is significant for two reasons: It potentially avoids a costly ballot measure battle this fall, and it could put Oregon on a reasonable path to reduce its reliance on coal.

The deal also shows how Oregonians of goodwill can solve problems through negotiation and conciliation, rather than settling their differences through expensive ballot measure campaigns.

Without the deal announced Jan. 6, a coalition of environmental groups would have proceeded to the November ballot with a renewable-energy measure that likely would have drawn fierce opposition from utilities. Instead, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power reached out to the groups and helped shape a better plan — one that provides them more flexibility than a ballot measure would to phase out their coal plants. Utility officials say the compromise also assures that the transition to renewables doesn’t unduly burden their customers with major rate increases, although some large power users don’t agree with that assessment.

To head off the ballot fight, the Oregon Legislature must approve the plan — with any necessary tweaks — in February. Lawmakers will need to analyze whether ratepayers truly will be protected and make changes if that’s not the case.

Yet, that’s exactly how laws should be fashioned in Oregon, with competing interests having an opportunity to influence the outcome. Other bruising and depressingly expensive ballot fights — over minimum wage increases and an onerous gross receipts tax — also could be avoided if legislators and others would come to the table and work toward solutions that benefit all of Oregon.

The alternative is to spend tens of millions of campaign dollars on ballot battles that divide Oregonians instead.

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