By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem — Senate Bill 324 would allow the state to require fuel suppliers to decrease carbon intensity for most fuel sold in Oregon by 10 percent in a decade.

Sponsors: Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene; Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland; Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis; Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene

History: The standards are modeled on those in California, which has put its program in place and studied some of the costs. Republicans say the price of a gallon of gas would rise under the program, though researchers say it’s difficult to predict by how much.

What’s next: After passing the House 31-29, the bill is now headed to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk.

Online: Read the bill at http://bit.ly/1CGlIf7

SALEM — Oregon moved closer to becoming the second state in the nation to allow its agencies to combat climate change by changing its fuel supply or requiring companies to buy carbon credits after the House voted to let the program go forward Wednesday.

Senate Bill 324, which lifts a sunset on the program created in 2009, passed the Democratic-controlled House 31-29. It now heads for the desk of Gov. Kate Brown, who is expected to sign the bill. The vote was the tightest this session in the House, with four Democrats joining all Republicans voting against the bill. The bill’s passage has also created a roadblock in a transportation bill that would include tax hikes to pay for road maintenance and building.

Lawmakers held a five-hour debate that culminated with House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, shouting on the floor.

“We are about to spend the money of Oregonians when they go to the gas pump. Not one dime for a road. Not one dime for a bridge. And to what end?” McLane said.

“The decision is (Brown’s),” McLane said later, referring to whether the governor would sign the bill.

She said when asked last month that she supports the bill but refrained from saying whether she would sign it.

“For me, clean fuels translates into cleaner air for Oregonians. I think that’s a good thing,” Brown said last month.

Republicans had hoped to block the bill by highlighting the potential increases in the price of gas once suppliers change fuel blends or buy credits and pass the costs onto consumers.

Republicans also said the program would have little impact on climate change, and the money generated through the carbon credit program would go to out-of-state companies and not to building and repairing roads.

But Democrats said low-carbon fuel standards will mark another step toward fighting global climate change.

“We should do what we’re capable of doing to address it every chance we have,” said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland.

Republicans now say they are no longer talking with Democrats about a transportation package that would likely include a gas-tax hike and would therefore require some bipartisan support.

Unless Democrats gained a Republican vote in the House, the only way revenue could be raised for transportation would be through a referendum, where voters historically reject tax increases.

“I cannot understand it. I do not, I don’t understand it,” said Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, who was a member of an eight-member work group discussing transportation. “The need for bridges and roads and streets in my area is huge. I don’t get it.”

The Department of Environmental Quality estimated the full low-carbon fuels program could increase the price of a gallon of fuel between 4 cents and 19 cents by 2025. Republicans now say they are unwilling to couple that with a gas tax increase.

During the debate Wednesday, lawmakers developed a theme that there were two Oregons, one urban and one rural.

Two Democrats said during the debate they were concerned the potential cost increases of the program would disproportionately impact rural Oregonians who have less access to public transportation and have to drive greater distances for work.

“It’s little wonder that so many rural Oregonians have so many problems with this bill and can’t understand why the other Oregon continues to inflict so much economic pain upon them,” said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, who voted against the bill.

Democrats who also voted against the bill were Reps. Deborah Boone, of Cannon Beach; Jeff Barker, of Aloha; and Caddy McKeown, of Coos Bay.

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, voted against the measure and said during debate that “global climate change surely is real,” but that the program was “neither smart nor effective” at combating the change.

He said he would have preferred the proposed move by Republicans to divert money from the Energy Trust of Oregon to universities to study solutions to climate change. That measure failed along party lines.

“The costs of this bill are local, real and immediate,” Bueh­ler said. “And unfortunately the benefits are uncertain, long-term and will mostly go to those outside of Oregon.”

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, stopped Buehler’s speech briefly when he called the program a gas tax.

Kotek had asked for an opinion from the nonpartisan legislative counsel on whether the program was, indeed, a tax hike.

“The answer is no,” wrote Dexter Johnson, legislative counsel.

Other Republicans like Rep. Gene Whisnant, of Sunriver, said residents in their rural districts couldn’t afford any increases to the cost of gas.

“To put it bluntly, our families are struggling,” Whisnant said.

Republicans after the vote repeatedly said it’s up to Democrats to figure out how to get the transportation talks back on the rails.

Kotek said in a statement Tuesday that lawmakers need to get past the bill and work on transportation.

“Oregonians need us to put partisan differences aside and come up with a transportation package that will get much-needed projects done throughout our state, put people to work, and maintain the infrastructure we have,” her statement read.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,

tanderson@bendbulletin.com

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