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Today's lead editorial in the Portland Yellow Pages. You need to know that this paper's slant is left...

Ted's great adventure
Oregon's governor bets his legacy -- and your tax money -- on producing a homegrown supply of energy
Friday, May 23, 2008
The Oregonian
T ed Kulongoski can occasionally seem, well, distracted. But make no mistake, when it comes to his legacy, Oregon's governor is totally focused. Convinced he can pioneer a path to an America less dependent on foreign oil, Kulongoski has hitched his place-in-history wagon to going domestic green.

We're hard pressed to think of a more historic -- or more timely -- gubernatorial bequest. It's increasingly clear that this nation's economic future hinges on making smarter use of its share of global energy.

Kulongoski anointed one key ingredient to fuel this first phase of his journey: ethanol. Turns out he could hardly have made a more controversial choice.

Renewable energy advocates once hailed American ethanol -- distilled mostly from Midwest corn -- as the Holy Grail. It is homegrown. It burns cleanly. Best of all, it reappears each harvest. That's why, as recently as last year, when he signed the legislative bill mandating all gasoline pumped in Oregon to contain 10 percent ethanol, Kulongoski's green legacy seemed assured.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the service station. Overnight, this biofuel became the whipping boy for a host of social ills. The charge: Ethanol hurts more than it helps.

Some studies suggest that planting corn, fertilizing it, harvesting and processing it actually consumes more energy than it yields. Others insist the global rush to grow fuel is gobbling up forests, releasing into the air far more carbon than is spared by burning biofuels rather than gasoline.

Translation: Ethanol may be destroying the planet in order to save it.

Adding political insult to environmental injury, activists insist soaring ethanol demand is causing a spike in corn prices, sending through commodity markets the global ripple that has sparked food riots from Pakistan to Mexico, Indonesia to Egypt.

Then there's the still-raging debate over the extent to which ethanol reduces a vehicle's miles-per-gallon efficiency, an extent drivers experience every time they fill the tank.

All this surely is enough to give a governor sleepless nights. Especially because Kulongoski is more than an early adopter of ethanol. He's a major investor. What he's been investing is your money.

Millions of taxpayer dollars jump-started plans to manufacture ethanol in Boardman and Clatskanie. And the governor insists he's not done yet.

This likely explains why in Salem all sorts of hope -- even before Oregon's second ethanol plant comes fully on line -- now is being pinned on something called cellulosic technologies. Goodbye, corn. Hello, sawdust and switchgrass. Welcome, wood chips and wheat straw. You, too, cheese whey.

Pacific Ethanol just received $24 million from the federal Department of Energy for a demonstration cellulosic fuel project at its Boardman plant. The company hopes to cook a cocktail of wood chips from a nearby poplar plantation and straw from Columbia River basin wheat fields. It needs to do so quickly. And profitably. And in bulk.

The bottom line: What Kulongoski has going here is one enormous gamble. If fresh technologies fail to come on line fast enough, he -- and his legacy -- risk getting lost in the maize.



2008 The Oregonian
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Old 05-23-2008, 10:02 AM
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