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For a guy who frets frequently, and publicly, about climate change, pollution and America’s thirst for petroleum, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has a funny way of showing his concern.

Kulongoski’s latest idea might actually discourage Oregonians from driving fuel-efficient cars.

If you’re partial to full-size pickup trucks and similarly hefty rigs, however, you’ll probably second the governor’s motion.

Kulongoski announced this week that he’ll lobby the Legislature, which convenes next month, to jumpstart his plan to replace Oregon’s gas tax of 24 cents per gallon with a mileage tax.

The governor hasn’t suggested an amount. A 10-month experiment last year that involved 300 drivers in the Portland area used a tax of 1.2 cents per mile driven.

If your car gets more than 20 mpg, a mileage tax at that level probably would cost you more than the gas tax does now.

So much for that Prius purchase penciling out.

To be fair to the governor, we’re not suggesting that he’s a hypocrite.


We don’t care whether the Baker City Council calls its get-togethers “meetings” or “work sessions.”

We care a great deal, though, about whether councilors get answers to all their questions before they vote on matters such as how they’ll spend our money.

Or how much of our money the Council thinks the city needs.

And so we endorse City Manager Steve Brocato’s proposal to change one of the Council’s two monthly gatherings from a “meeting” to a “work session.”

The idea, which the Council probably will discuss during its annual goal-setting session in early 2009, is that councilors would benefit if, once a month, they scheduled a work session to talk over topics but agreed beforehand that they wouldn’t actually cast any votes during the session.

Work sessions would be public meetings, of course, so long as at least four of the seven councilors attended.

During work sessions councilors could not only debate issues, but also query Brocato and other city officials about the purposes and potential effects of items on the Council’s agenda.

E-Cycle: It’s easy, free

For most people an old, obsolete TV or computer monitor is trash, albeit heavy, space-occupying trash.

Trouble is, tossing such stuff into a landfill can cause problems more serious than clogging your closet capacity.

Polluting groundwater with poisonous heavy metals, for instance.

Televisions, computer and computer monitors contain toxins such as mercury and lead.

Americans threw away about 232 million of these devices in 2007, but just 18 percent were recycled rather than landfilled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency estimates that 235 million more are taking up the aforementioned closet space.

Cooperation, not antagonism

The Baker School District needs to save money.

The Oregon School Employees Association wants to protect its members who work for the district as cooks, bus drivers and in other non-teaching jobs.

Both goals are reasonable.

What’s also reasonable is to expect that district and union officials will work together to try to achieve both objectives.

Their relationship is hardly amicable now, though, and we hope they try to mend it before it erodes any further.

The animosity dates to the summer, when Superintendent Don Ulrey, in an effort to curb costs, cut one cook position.

Although the affected employee was transferred to a different job in the district, the decision prompted OSEA to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the district. Union official Mary Kay Brant contends Ulrey should have told the union before transferring the OSEA worker.

Perhaps, but considering the district moved, rather than fired, the employee, the complaint seems unnecessary.

Congress wants to throw around a lot of money next year to improve roads and other publicly owned in

We hope some of those dollars land in Baker County.

Equally important, we hope those dollars not only boost the local economy, but also make the county a better place to live and to visit.

To achieve those goals, local officials will need to compile a list of projects that lack only the money to get them going.

Officials will have to hurry, though.

Compromise needed

The decades-old disagreement over managing America’s public forests has not been fertile ground for compromises.

But occasionally such a chance comes along, and we despair when the rare opportunity seems to be slipping through our grasp.

That appears to be the case, though, with the federal government’s campaign to reduce the risk of summer wildfires by  logging and lighting prescribed fires in overcrowded forests.

What frustrates us is that the basic idea behind that campaign appeals not only to the Forest Service and the timber industry, but also to many environmental groups that have vehemently opposed other types of timber sales.

Groups such as Oregon Wild and the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council agree with Forest Service officials that millions of acres of national forests in the West are sickly and vulnerable.

There’s general concurrence, too, on research that shows historic logging of the biggest, healthiest trees, combined with the exclusion of lightning-caused fires, is largely responsible for the problem.

The Bush Administration’s and Congress’ chief strategy for solving that problem was to ease federal environmental laws so the Forest Service can get the trees cut and the fires lit sooner.

No more topping off

Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission has decided you shouldn’t be able to have your car’s fuel tank “topped off” at any service station in the state.

We agree.

Topping off, though a common practice, is a wholly unnecessary one.

Oregon’s a big state, sure, but it’s hardly the Gobi Desert.

The longest fuel-less stretch on Oregon’s highway system is about 70 miles — well within the range of the most voracious gas guzzler with a tank that’s been filled but not topped off.

That extra half-gallon that the attendant can cram in after the pump’s automatic flow shuts off equates to at most an extra 25 miles or so.

Federal grant is money well spent

Government has a reputation for spending millions of dollars to try to solve some social problem, only to have the problem persist.

Or get worse.

Sometimes that reputation is deserved.

The government’s lackluster progress over several decades of combating poverty and drug abuse, for instance, lend credence to the criticisms of cynics.

But in some cases the government’s habit of doling out dollars actually achieves results more valuable than spawning a bureaucracy and giving politicians fodder for campaign speeches.

The $2.5 million that the federal government will give to Baker, Union and Wallowa counties over five years certainly isn’t going to waste so far.

That’s no Sunday drive

The four-team Greater Oregon League is hardly an ideal situation for athletics.

But it’s far better than the idea that a committee from the Oregon School Activities Association might propose.

“Far” is the most relevant word in this case.

The committee has discussed doubling the GOL to eight teams starting in the 2010-11 school year. The current contingent of Baker, La Grande, Mac-Hi and Ontario would be joined by four schools from Central Oregon: Crook County, LaPine, Madras and Sisters.

Except it seems silly to describe as “joined” two quartets of schools that are at least 210 miles apart.

Distance is why the committee’s proposal won’t work, and shouldn’t happen.

More specifically, adding thousands of miles to GOL teams’ travels each year would cost  schools thousands of dollars. At a time when many districts, including Baker, are trying to trim costs, those extra dollars aren’t readily available.

Looking to the future, minus the haze

We think the views around Baker County are pretty stunning now, but Oregon officials contend the vistas ought to be clearer.

Well, we won’t complain if that happens.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality believes it can happen.

The DEQ recently wrote a report that calls for cutting airborne pollution by 80 percent in the next decade at Portland General Electric’s coal-fired power plant in Boardman.

That, combined with a reduction in emissions as cleaner cars replace less-efficient models, could rid parts of Oregon of the unhealthy haze that casts a pall across the horizon.

We could notice a difference within 10 years at places such as Hells Canyon and the Columbia River Gorge, according to DEQ.

The agency’s longer-term goal is much more ambitious, though.

That goal is to eliminate manmade haze by 2065.

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