|SALEM, Ore.-Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss broke news that a Marion County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday “potentially blew a hole in the budget of the embattled Oregon Department of Energy.“The judge, Tracy Prall, ruled the failing Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) improperly collected millions and millions of dollars from a suite of nine public utilities.
Prall says the questionable state agency must fork over the money, back to the utilities, that it should have never had in the first place. Republicans have been key critics of the crumbling state agency saying that it perpetuates a culture of wrongdoing in the executive branch. ODOE has been enmeshed in a long-running scandal that included, reported Jaquiss, “an admission from a former agency employee that he accepted bribes related to one tax credit project.”
The Oregon Justice Department (ODOJ) reported that a former ODOE official pleaded guilty to shoveling up over $291,000 in kickbacks tied to the laundering of state energy tax credits. The Associated Press reported that The Oregonian reported “Joe Colello, who managed tax credit sales for the department, pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering, receiving bribes, aggravated theft, tax evasion and official misconduct charges.” When Colello was caught for his culture of corrupted behavior he said, “I’m dirty.”
Jaquiss pointed out in his report that Republicans have called for the agency to be abolished. State Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, has been at the tip of the spear fighting to shine a light on the shadowy state agency that he says should be defunded. ODOE collects energy supplier assessments from utilities, and in 2015, the utilities sued the state agency charging they failed to comply with law to explain why they were being assessed, how the money was being collected and how the money would then be used. That total amount was about $6.5 million a year, reported Jaquiss. Olsen sponsored legislation this year to reform ODOE but Senate Democrats killed his bills. Olsen says Republicans “seem to be the only people in the building who want to actually do something about runaway state agencies.”
Olsen released the following statement:
“When is this so-called ‘energy department’ going to be held accountable for its egregious misbehavior. The rampant misbehavior of ODOE spits of gangster government – when you have state agencies acting like cartels rather than working for the hardworking taxpayers of Oregon. They are not protecting the environment. They are not protecting people. They are hurting them and they are harming the environment. Keeping state agencies under control shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I’m calling on my colleagues in the state legislature to join me in putting an end to the pervasive culture in state agencies. It can be done.”