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Dudley vs. Kitzhaber: On global warming, energy and land use

What did we learn about the gubernatorial candidates’ stands on environmental issues in last night’s live, televised debate?

Nothing earth-shattering, was my initial reaction.

Chris Dudley: Global warming exists, and people are contributing to it. (Is he off the list of “climate change zombies“?)

John Kitzhaber: Let’s conserve energy. (Weatherization: Worthy of tax dollars?)

But there were some interesting details that highlighted a divide between the two candidates. Dudley hedged on clean energy and global warming issues, making sure to note that policy changes shouldn’t cost jobs or raise the price of energy. Kitzhaber made a point to call out some hot-button environmental issues (the Gorge casino, off-shore drilling) and take more pro-environment stands.

On global warming:

Asked point-blank about his take on global warming during the debate, Dudley said:

“Global warming exists, and man contributes to it. I don’t know how much is man-made and how much is natural.”

But, he said, “let’s go to the place where we can build consensus.  … I think we should focus on the 80 percent of the areas where everybody agrees.”

Where are those areas? He listed energy independence, reducing carbon emissions and utilizing renewable energy – including biomass, wave, wind and solar power. He put a little extra emphasis on hydropower, it seemed, calling it “a great advantage.”

And he was also careful to add a qualifier: That Oregon can find a common agreement “in a way that doesn’t needlessly raise rates or eliminate jobs.”

Nobody pinned Dudley down on whether he would support a permanent oil drilling ban off the Oregon coast. Last I checked his final word on that issue was that he had “no appetite” to open the coast to drilling.

Kitzhaber went beyond agreeing global warming exists. It is “human-caused,” he said, and it “poses and enormous threat to the state and the nation.”

He said he supports a ban on oil-drilling off the Oregon coast (to which, I read on Twitter, a crowd at Claudia’s Sports Pub in Portland cheered).

“We have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” Kitzhaber said.

On energy:

An audience member asked about how the state will meet its renewable energy goals while keeping energy affordable.

Kitzhaber said working toward energy conservation first is the best route, and then plugged his energy-efficiency plan again. Earlier, he noted, energy conservation could make up for 85 percent of the expected increases in the state’s energy consumption.

Kitzhaber advocated for renewable energy projects that will create jobs and make the state more energy independent.

Then he said something that I found interesting: That the state has “an obligation to engage private utilities” in energy conservation and should consider treating “a kilowatt conserved as a kilowatt generated.”  More on this later.

Dudley also advocated for conservation, but cautioned that the state’s renewable energy goal of 25 percent by 2025 could cost jobs, and questioned what new transmission lines “are going to look like.”

Earlier, Dudley said he would cut wasteful spending in the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit program, which has brought in a lot of renewable energy projects but at a much higher cost than initially planned. Kitzhaber has in the past agreed the BETC program is too big.

On land use:

Here’s Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes said about the candidates answer to his question about land use:

“This was an interesting exchange, I thought. I asked the two to skip the wonkish talk about Oregon’s tough statewide land-use laws. Instead I asked them to give an example of development they didn’t like, or land that couldn’t be developed and should. Dudley stumbled over the answer and Kitzhaber quickly came up with one development he didn’t like — the proposed casino in the Columbia Gorge — that Dudley admitted he wished he had thought about.”

Kitzhaber also added that he wanted to see land-use planning integrated with economic development, “so you don’t have the houses over here and the jobs over there … increasing the cost to congestion.”

The Sierra Club pounced on Dudley today, first for failing to name a special place to protect from development, then on his approach to global warming:

“Chris Dudley couldn’t name one place in Oregon he’d protect from development when asked in the first, and possibly only, gubernatorial debate of the 2010 general election. Dudley also showed little interest in ideas to create jobs across Oregon in home weatherization and energy efficiency, and didn’t offer any specific plans on how to proactively address the man-made causes of global warming.”


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