Discussion on whether Umatilla County, the producer, and Portland, the consumer, can strike a deal on biofuels has gravitated into a debate in the Legislature over fuel standards. Our lawmakers will need to rise to the occasion here and need our support.

Ag leaders in Umatilla County and representatives of the city of Portland have made progress on a proposal for Portland to pay canola growers in this area to produce biofuel for use in Portland's city truck fleet. It would be a sweet deal: Cutting air pollution in Portland and helping the Oregon ag economy.

Portland has adopted a standard on renewable, crop-based fuels to be effective July 1. All diesel sold in Portland would have to have at least 5 percent biodiesel. By 2010, that standard would rise to 7 percent. A new Portland city ordinance says that when Oregon ag sources can produce 2.5 million gallons of biodiesel, Portland would require half of its diesel needs to come from locally grown crops. Echo grower Kent Madison estimates the Portland deal could push Umatilla County's canola acreage from the present 956 acres to 71,000 acres - one-quarter of present wheat acreage. Portland city staff is preparing requests for proposals to get the word out to potential growers of canola.

Enter the Legislature. State lawmakers need to set standards on what percentage of petroleum diesel should come from biofuel products in the process of reducing reliance on foreign oil. There are a couple of hurdles - Portland may want a higher biofuel standard than the rest of the state, and petroleum industry lobbyists are attacking biofuel proposals because they would replace fossil fuel petroleum.

Rep. Bob Jenson, of Pendleton, said this week the biofuel debate in Salem is similar to last session's, when legislators failed to reach a solution and ran up the white flag. This session, the players are much the same, but there appears to be a resolve to reach a solution. If Oregonians don't understand dwindling oil supplies and higher pump prices by now, they never will. But the petroleum lobbyists are clever and might work at pitting Portland against the rest of the state. Jenson sounded pretty committed to reaching a solution this session.

Portland officials want their city with the most vehicles and most air pollution to be able to have biofuel standards they think are wise. In that position, Portland is jousting with legislators who want a uniform biofuel standard for the state and with petroleum industry representatives who oppose Portland's biofuel proposals period.

Al Gosiak, president of Pendleton Grain Growers, points out that under the federal Clean Air Act, gasoline sold in Portland in winter time has to be a certain ethanol percentage. So there is precedent for having Portland's fuel standard be different from the rest of Oregon. It does make sense. It's an argument people in Eastern Oregon have made over the years: Tailor regulations - land use, air pollution etc. - to fit the area.

This session, legislators need to produce biofuel standards that will work for Oregon and do something to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Only then will the Portland-Umatilla County plan be possible.

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