As gas prices remain high and food prices are on the rise, Oregon House Republicans have announced a plan to repeal Oregon’s ethanol mandate, a law passed just last year. According to the House Republican Office, estimates suggest the mandate has reduced gas mileage in vehicles and is costing Oregon drivers hundreds of dollars at the pump.

“Oregonians are suffering from the unintended consequences of this new law,” said Rep. George Gilman (R-Medford), the proposal’s chief sponsor.

“In 2009, we will work to repeal this costly ethanol mandate that is failing to work for Oregon.”

While the mandate had broad support in the House and the Senate last year, that support has turned into concern for Oregon’s economy.

“Everyone recognizes the potential of biofuels as a renewable energy source, but the mandated use of corn-based ethanol is causing more problems than it is solving,” said Rep. Chuck Burley (R-Bend), Vice Chair of the House Energy Committee. “Our proposal offers Oregonians relief from this mandate. It also allows the Legislature to seek and promote more efficient sources of energy to power our state.”

Not everyone agrees that the mandate is the culprit. John Gallaway with the Oregon Environmental Council, which lobbied in favor of the mandate, doesn’t see why the state would want to ease off the mandate at this juncture.

“I haven’t heard a compelling case for doing so,” Gallaway says. 

In fact, Gallaway notes that not only does ethanol reduce the demand for foreign oil, it also benefits Oregon’s economy as several companies have ramped up to meet the demand for ethanol. 

“We’ve already indicated to both the biofuels industry and the petroleum industry that we want to produce and use biofuels as part of our energy strategy. It is not the single solution to our transportation needs but it’s one of many solutions that will emerge.”

DOES SALEM HAVE HEALTHY CREEKS AND WATERWAYS?

Within the communities located along the Willamette River, there are numerous tributary streams and creeks. The Salem-Keizer area is home to six watershed councils that work to promote healthy streams and stream banks that improve water quality, are fish-friendly, provide natural habitats that support native plants and wildlife, and create pleasant neighborhoods for families and businesses.

According to Al White, President of Oregon Watersheds, the Salem community has rallied for healthier water over the past few years and local creeks are starting to show signs of improvement, especially as fish habitats. 

“Pringle Creek is getting better,” White said. “We’ve done a lot of work and there have been a lot of people in the community involved.”

In fact, just this year, some students from Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School discovered a salmon in Pringle Creek while working on an environmental project with two state biologists. 

“In 2000, we wouldn’t have seen anything like that,” White said. “We are pretty sure it was bred [in the creek] and we have a lot of hope for the continued potential of the fish habitat.”

In June 2008, the City of Salem Public Works Department released the Pringle Creek Watershed Management Plan, a 422-page document that aims to develop a framework for improving the City’s watershed health and fostering community support for ownership of watershed protection and restoration. The City selected the Pringle Creek watershed for development because it has the most available data to date, has an active watershed council, and is on DEQ’s list of waterways that do not meet water quality standards. 

“We are using the report as guidance,” White said. 

The “we” White refers to includes a variety of stakeholders that includes homeowners, government, developers, and students. 

“The big thing is we are involving students,” White notes. “If we can educate students then we will have a citizenry that is more aware down the road.”

PGE AND CONFEDERATED TRIBES TO RESTORE FISH PASSAGE

For the first time in four decades, salmon and steelhead will have safe passage down the Metolius, Crooked, and upper Deschutes River.

Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, co-owners of the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project, have joined forces to create a 273-foot underwater tower and fish collection station to restore fish passage around the Pelton and Round Butte dams on the Deschutes River.

The underwater tower modifies currents and temperatures to mimic natural conditions and attract migrating fish into a collection facility. These fish will be sorted and workers will transport young salmon and steelhead below the dams to continue their journey to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. When the fish return as adults, they will be sorted again, with the salmon and steelhead being upstream to spawn.

“This is an innovative solution to restoring fish passage in the Deschutes River Basin,” said Stephen Quennoz, PGE’s vice president of power supply and generation. “We will be able to continue providing an important source of clean, renewable power for the region while being good stewards of the environment.”

Construction on the project is under way with crews on target to have the facility constructed and operational in spring 2009, at a cost of about $108 million.

“This new tower is the result of a commitment the tribes made 10 years ago when relicensing was in its infancy,” said Bobby Brunoe, general manager of natural resources for Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “This helps restore a fishery that has been a vital part of our culture.”

USDA RURAL DEVELOPMENT GRANTS IN OREGON
In late August, USDA Rural Development announced the results of their national competition for rural energy grants and guaranteed loans. USDA Rural Development will award 18 Oregon applicants energy grants totaling $646,677 in 2008. Overall, Oregon received the eighth highest number of awards and the twelfth largest dollar amount among the states.

USDA’s energy grant program, recently renamed REAP (Rural Energy for America Program), provides matching grants to rural small businesses and agricultural producers for the purchase and installation of renewable energy generation systems or energy efficiency improvements. Some of the grant winners in the Willamette Valley include:

Crawford Beck Vineyard, LLC, Amity
Rickreall Dairy, LLC, Rickreall
Climax Portable Machine Tools, Newberg
Left Coast Cellars, LLC, Rickreall
Bjorn Farm, LLC, Salem
Northwoods Nursery, Inc., Molalla
Willamette Biodiesel, LLC, Rickreall

Nationwide, USDA Rural Development awarded about $34 million in energy grants under this program in 2008. Under the provisions of the recently enacted Farm Bill, the funding for the REAP program is expected to increase to over $50 million in 2009.