SALEM — Democratic leaders in the Oregon Legislature announced Wednesday afternoon they will form a committee in 2016 to consider whether to overhaul or eliminate the state Department of Energy.
State Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, issued a joint statement calling for a “full and open Legislative overhaul” of the agency. The lawmakers said they will direct the committee to issue recommendations and legislation for the full Legislature to take up in 2017.
“It’s time for the Legislature to bring the problems at the Department of Energy into full focus and determine how we can fix them once and for all,” Kotek said in a written statement.
Courtney went even further, in his written statement Wednesday afternoon.
“Session after session we have had to address problems at the Oregon Department of Energy,” Courtney said. “The (business energy tax credit) program has gotten the most attention, but it’s been more than just the BETC. We need to get to the bottom of the issues at ODOE. Is it the structure? Is it the purpose? Is it the personnel? Is it time for the Department of Energy to go away?”
Michael Kaplan, director of the Oregon Department of Energy, said the agency can improve with help from lawmakers.
“(Oregon Department of Energy) staff have been working hard to move this agency forward, and we believe we’ll be more successful with the Legislature’s help,” Kaplan said in a written statement. “We look forward to the opportunity to discuss the future of energy policy, safety, and siting in the state.”
A group of Republican state lawmakers on Monday called for an investigation of allegations that employees at the Department of Energy and Department of Revenue violated state law on energy tax credits, engaged in favoritism and allowed some people to evade capital gains tax. The lawmakers outlined the allegations in a letter to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the state’s U.S. Attorney, the FBI, the IRS and Marion County District Attorney Walter Beglau.
The energy department came under increased scrutiny this year after news reports revealed the agency wrongly awarded millions of dollars in tax credits and allowed people to ignore state regulations on energy tax credits.
However, problems at the agency go back years, to when staff lowballed the cost of the controversial business energy tax credit under pressure from the administration of then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Tax credits issued to incentive renewable energy and efficiency projects could cost the state $1 billion in tax revenue it otherwise would have received.
Then there was the Oregon Department of Justice investigation into whether the Department of Energy steered part of a contract to Cylvia Hayes, who at the time as the companion of former Gov. John Kitzhaber. Hayes’ company came in last in the bidding, but she was not accused of wrongdoing.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.