Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The (Bend) Bulletin, Feb. 18: Don't implement clean fuel standards with the sunset in place
Gov. John Kitzhaber has told the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to go ahead with a plan that sets new fuel standards for Oregon.
Suppliers would have to cut the carbon in car and truck fuel by 10 percent a gallon over a 10-year period.
Supporters say it could grow Oregon businesses, reduce dependence on foreign oil and be better for the environment.
But it could also do plenty of bad things. Like so many other government interventions, it could go terribly wrong. It could raise fuel prices. It's also a noticeable distraction from Cover Oregon's problems and the $1 billion budget hole the state will have to fill in the Oregon Health Authority budget.
So when Kitzhaber said it should move forward, we paid attention.
Oregon's clean fuels program has been on hold. The Legislature passed a law in 2009. The DEQ required reporting from suppliers to get things started. But the DEQ stopped at the next step — setting standards.
Kitzhaber told the DEQ Thursday to set the standards and implement them.
The program is still in an odd place. The program was set to sunset on Dec. 31, 2015. If the Legislature doesn't remove that sunset, the program is over.
The Legislature showed no inclination to remove the sunset this session or last.
Uri Papish of the DEQ told us it's possible the DEQ could put the standards in place and then they would just go away at the end of 2015.
The governor's office told us that Kitzhaber believes the sunset will be removed and the program should be put into place.
We disagree. Whatever you think about the possible merits of the clean fuel standards, it makes no sense to start requiring businesses to comply with a regulation with such doubt that it will continue.
Eugene Register-Guard, Feb. 12: Oregonians continue to be independent thinkers
Oregonians tend to be an independent lot. Some years back a tourism campaign reflected that with a "things look different here" theme that focused on the state's geographic diversity and natural beauty, but also implied that Oregonians pride themselves on thinking outside the box. That wasn't mere boasting. In 1902, Oregon became the second state, behind South Dakota, to install an initiative and referendum system that allows citizens to make laws and undo laws passed by the Legislature.
In more modern times the state's residents have declared the ocean beaches public property, approved some of the nation's toughest anti-sprawl and pro-environment laws, authorized doctor-assisted suicide, required all voting be done by mail and experimented with universal health care through the Oregon Health Plan. The late Wayne Morse served 24 years in the U.S. Senate, first as a Republican, then as an independent, then as a Democrat. The streak of independence Morse personified is reflected in Oregon's official state motto — "She Flies With Her Own Wings" — adopted by territorial officials five years before statehood.
Now there's further evidence of Oregon's maverick character — a pair of surveys conducted in 2013 by Gallup. One found Oregon tied with Hawaii as the fifth most liberal state, with 28 percent of those surveyed identifying themselves as liberals. The second determined that Oregon was the fifth least religious state, with only 31 percent identifying themselves as "very religious." Vermont topped both lists.
The Gallup interviews were spread over the entire year and included more than 170,000 adults in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In most categories Oregonians were smack in the middle, close to the national average in approval or disapproval of President Obama; in listing themselves as conservatives, moderates or liberals; in "leaning" Republican or Democrat and in regarding themselves as "moderately religious."
But Oregonians departed from the national norm in two interesting ways. One was on religious beliefs: There was an 11-point gap between the percentage of Oregonians who consider themselves "very religious" — 30 percent — and the national average of more than 41 percent. And there was a 14-point difference between those who said they were "non-religious" — 43 percent, to 29 percent nationally.
Religious belief is an individual and private matter, but numerous studies suggest a strong link between religious and political beliefs. If more than four in 10 Oregonians say they have no religious beliefs, that likely influences how they view hot-button issues such as abortion, gay rights and capital punishment.
The other split came in what Gallup calls the "conservative advantage" — the difference between the percentage of respondents identifying themselves as conservatives vs. those identifying themselves as liberals. Nationwide, the gap was nearly 15 percent in conservatives' favor. In Oregon it was less than 6 percent, one of the smallest gaps in the country. That close divide gives added political weight to Oregonians who consider themselves moderates (more than a third in the survey) and likely ensures that neither political extreme will dominate in Oregon anytime soon.
The message may be that Oregonians, more than most, prefer to think for themselves instead of letting any authority, spiritual or secular, do their thinking for them.
The Oregonian, Feb. 13: BPA's daunting challenges extend beyond crisis management
The deconstruction of hundreds of past hires at the Bonneville Power Administration continues, and as of this week the power agency had extended 50 offers of full-time, staff employment to military veterans who'd been previously shut out despite laws designed to advance their candidacies. Some 19 declined. But by the time BPA completes its federally ordered review of those caught in rigged hiring practices, it is estimated that somewhere between 70 and 120 previously rejected candidates will be offered jobs — and that anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent of them will accept. In an interview with The Oregonian's editorial board, acting Administrator Elliot Mainzer said his agency, currently staffed with more than 3,000 government employees, would absorb the new hires through attrition and unfilled vacancies.
That's steady progress from the tumult of last summer, when BPA was found by its overseeing U.S. Department of Energy to have acted outside the law on hiring and had fostered a culture of retribution against agency employees who'd dare to protest. Mainzer was placed in charge after Bill Drummond, in the top job for just six months, was escorted from the building with Anita Decker, the agency's chief operating officer. Mainzer quickly found himself in the weird position of dousing fires in an agency he'd been a part of since 2002 while championing DOE directives to ensure unfairness in hiring could never happen again.
His cleanup efforts aren't done. Among the challenges Mainzer faces is having BPA's office of general counsel again report directly to his office instead of DOE, as ordered last fall — a switch that would underscore the independence of BPA as a Northwest institution serving Northwest needs. But Mainzer's recent selection by DOE to keep the agency's top job becomes real next week, when he's sworn in as administrator and takes the reins of the region's leading power broker, and his most pressing tasks are more daunting, even, than scandal cleanup.
At least half of BPA's top executives — there are 30 — are either scheduled or eligible to retire in the next two to four years. That means a succession plan for the team that leads the agency, affecting electricity ratepayers throughout the Northwest, must be mapped and executed. While leading the succession, 47-year-old Mainzer must address the same kind of infrastructure decrepitude seen in public roadways and bridges nationwide: facilities past their prime. Massive turbines at dams throughout the Columbia River basin need overhaul. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the dams, BPA must pay for key hydropower improvements. That's a breathtakingly expensive challenge. In his interview with The Oregonian, Mainzer estimated the upgrades will cost up to $800 million annually over the coming decade — a cost that would be "recovered"... "from power customers," otherwise known as ratepayers.
Separately, the rise of wind farms brings good but expensive news: Whopping loads of clean power can suddenly arrive at BPA's transmission grid, which was never designed to accommodate it on-the-spot. Balancing the rise and fall of wind energy in the distribution system has been deftly handled by dialing things up and down at the dams, but new and more sophisticated technologies need to be employed to ensure balance and security — and that will mean hefty capital outlays, too.
More than anything, however, is the need for a BPA culture shift emphasizing public transparency and employee engagement. Organizational theorists would call that the hardest part of Mainzer's job, because it amounts to redirecting the Queen Mary — steady, nearly imperceptible movement that has huge consequence but requires continuous effort and tweaking. It can be done, and Mainzer, it seems, is off to a promising start.
"I believe leaders can have a profound influence," he says. "Employees want to know what's going on. There must be a context and meaning for work."
We couldn't agree more. BPA's history of marketing inexpensive power from the nation's standard-setting hydropower system supports the Northwest economy and affordable lifestyle. It didn't happen without a dedicated workforce and longterm vision. Both of those things must again be the hallmarks of the agency as it pulls itself from turmoil, corrects internal practices and repairs its relationship with DOE.
Mainzer previously served as BPA's head of strategic planning but calls himself a "natural communicator." That's a good thing. It could be that such an attribute, combined with the proven chops needed to keep the energy system running but poised for technologic change, could make the difference now and ahead.
The Daily Astorian, Feb 13: Why does no one sound the alarm?
Imagine a multi-billion business whose corporate divisions' computer systems can't talk to each other. That is one way of describing Oregon state government.
The board of directors of a mega-business with a succession of computer fiascoes would call a halt to major new initiatives until systems were brought to a state of reliability.
If you listen to what's coming out of Salem, no one seems to be sounding that alarm. To his credit, state Rep. Dennis Richardson has said of the state's computer systems, "It's criminal how its organized."
The Cover Oregon fiasco is only the most recent highly visible, atrociously expensive computer mess.
The Oregonian on Wednesday made a useful point about the lead weight around the Oregon Legislature's neck. An editorial disparaging legislative intent to implement a complicated fuels program said: "It's almost as if lawmakers— some of them, anyway — are unaware of the yawning credibility pit the Cover Oregon mess has opened in Salem."
Describing the Cover Oregon incident, The O cited "Lax oversight, ignored warnings, squandered millions, an apparently oblivious governor."
To the Portland newspaper's target of concern, we would add the Columbia River Crossing, which thus far has only proved that Oregon does have a robust and highly paid consulting sector.
Why should the taxpayers buy a bridge from leadership that has botched other high visibility projects?
Political capital is the lifeblood of public life. The most essential component of political capital is credibility. As The Oregonian puts it, state lawmakers' "ambition exceeds their credibility."
Albany Democrat-Herald, Feb. 17: Want better schools? Cut absenteeism rates
As we continue to hunt for ways to improve Oregon's on-time graduation rate from high school_- currently the second-worst in the nation — here's a suggestion worth considering:
Make sure more students actually attend school.
A recent investigation by The Oregonian newspaper into absenteeism rates at the state's public schools does a real service by casting a light on some statistics that surprised even some school officials.
Education experts say students are chronically absent when they miss 10 percent or more of class days. Statewide, The Oregonian found, an astonishing 16.8 percent of Oregon public school students hit that mark during the 2012-13 school year. Only nine states report their absenteeism rate — Oregon's rate, as you might expect, is the highest of those nine.
The percentage of chronically absent students in mid-valley public schools tends to be higher — in some cases, more than twice as high — than the state average.
The Oregonian found that absentee rates tended to be higher in rural areas, and that generally tended to be true in the mid-valley as well.
For example: According to the numbers The Oregonian crunched, more than 37 percent of students at both Sweet Home High School and Lebanon High School are chronically absent. (Sweet Home has the slight edge, if that's the word, at 37.6 percent; the rate in Lebanon is 37.4 percent.) Put another way, more than a third of the students in these two schools missed more than 10 percent of every school day in the 2012-13 school year.
In Albany, South Albany High School has a 31.7 percent rate of chronically absent students. West Albany boasts the best absenteeism rate of the nine mid-valley high schools we looked at, but even its rate (17.2 percent) is slightly above the state average of 16.8 percent.
The rates aren't much better across the river in Benton County: Corvallis High School's absenteeism rate was 32 percent. The number at Crescent Valley High School was 30 percent. Rates were lower, but still in the mid-20s in Alsea, Monroe and Philomath.
Common sense would tell you that students who are chronically absent are less likely to graduate than their peers. As it turns out, plenty of studies back that up as well. In fact, a study from Illinois suggests that when students miss 10 percent or more of school days, their odds of graduating drop below 40 percent.
The news isn't entirely bad in Oregon: At least we're starting to track these absenteeism rates, as part of the achievement compacts the Kitzhaber administration is requiring from schools.
But as we try to figure out the best strategies to help boost Oregon's moribund graduation rates, it might be that one key is relatively simple: Starting from kindergarten on, we need to do everything we can to ensure that students actually show up at their schools.
The (Roseburg) News-Review, Feb. 18: Timber industry has opening to win values debate
While coming out against U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden's Western Oregon timber plan, Umpqua Watersheds has invited a debate over values.
It's a debate the timber industry should welcome.
In a recent letter to Wyden, the Roseburg-based conservation group asserts that society won't tolerate the White Castle timber sale or similar harvests.
As proof, Umpqua Watersheds points to the tree-sitters blocking White Castle. "Now we know the limits to social tolerance for this style of forestry in this type of forest," the letter states.
If the senator persists in using harvests like White Castle to increase timber production, there will be a backlash, Umpqua Watersheds reasons.
"More White Castles will only create more tree villages — with or without this legislation," the group states.
To see the tree-sitters as indicators of "social tolerance" is pretty rich.
It also says a lot about the undemocratic, no-compromise approach conservation groups have taken to Oregon & California Railroad trust lands.
Wyden's timber bill could as accurately be called his "wilderness bill" because it would set aside more than a million acres for conservation. It's so moderate that it may not be sufficient to sustain a robust wood-products industry in Southern Oregon.
Still, it's not good enough for conservation groups.
The environmental movement has been good at claiming the high ground — save the condors, save the whales, save the Earth.
Expressing values that capture the public's goodwill has been their strength. Who's against clean air and clean water?
The campaign against logging O&C lands is a tougher sale.
The lands grow 1.2 billion board feet of timber a year, according to the Bureau of Land Management. Less than one-fifth of that new growth is harvested annually. Wyden has targeted cutting about one-fourth. Even a more-aggressive House plan, dead on arrival in the Senate, would have yielded less than one-half.
For the most part, Oregon's state and federal lawmakers, mostly Democrats, to some degree support higher timber harvests on public lands. The payback would be more jobs and better funding for public services, such as libraries and law enforcement. Solid values.
With the tide running against them, conservation groups have responded with visceral arguments. Even Oregon Wild eventually called its misleading "Welcome to Oregon, Home of the Clearcut" ad campaign "tongue-in-cheek."
Unemployment and poverty are high in timber counties, yet environmental groups claim the role of victim. They act hurt at the thought any environmental protection may be weakened. They exploit any federal law they can to hinder logging. Meanwhile, self-styled "forest defenders" physically block a legal timber sale and are held up as the public's bellwether.
By all means, conservation groups, hold up the tree-sitters as representatives of your values.