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Editorial: Energy bill doesn't belong in short session

Editorial: Energy bill doesn't belong in short session

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You might recall this: When the Oregon Legislature started meeting every year, the idea in general was that the shorter five-week sessions, like the one that begins Feb. 1, would be reserved mainly for smaller issues — budgetary fine-tuning, for example, or tying up loose ends.

In part, the idea was that the accelerated pace of the shorter session made it difficult for legislators to thoroughly vet unusually complex issues. (The same thing is true, doubly so, for members of the public who might be interested in tracking certain bills.) The reasoning was that these complex issues needed the full time set aside for the longer legislative sessions held in odd-numbered years.

That idea still makes sense.

That brings us to a discussion of a proposal that the 2016 session might consider: legislation that would fundamentally restructure Oregon’s energy supply by 2040, eliminating coal-fired power and mandating that utilities use renewable sources to serve half of their customers’ energy needs.

The proposal was crafted in large part behind closed doors in negotiations between utilities and environmental groups, and that always sets some red flags flying. Our reservations increased after seeing a weekend story in The Oregonian reporting that state utility regulators have concerns about the proposal. It turns out that commissioners and staff members of the Oregon Public Utility Commission believe that the proposal would do nothing to cut carbon dioxide emissions — but would saddle consumers with higher power rates.

Regardless of what you think of the proposal, it certainly seems like something legislators would want to thoroughly consider. (A draft of the bill is not expected to be ready until the end of this week.) This also would seem to be a matter on which members of the public would want to weigh in. But it’s not at all clear to us that the short session allows sufficient time to do that. Certainly, the proponents of annual sessions in Oregon (and that includes us) didn’t intend for these complex issues to dominate the shorter sessions.

Legislators will argue that they have no choice but to act on this measure this session, because proponents of the idea have said if the Legislature fails to act, they’ll push for an even more drastic ballot measure for the fall.

Here’s another way to look at that argument: The Legislature must approve a significant measure that could be bad public policy in a rushed manner that fails to allow time for either legislators or the public to adequately study it so that it can forestall a ballot measure that potentially could be even worse.

A very similar threat is driving the legislative push this session to increase the state’s minimum wage: Take action this session, legislators are being told, or run the risk of a more drastic measure making its way to the November ballot.

This isn’t any way to govern — or, for that matter, to lead. And pushing these complicated measures onto the agenda of an already-crowded short session is a recipe for trouble. 

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