Bill lifts the sunset on program mandating cleaner vehicle fuels

Despite recent controversy and resistance from Republican lawmakers, Senate Bill 324 passed last week lifting the sunset of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard program.

The program, which was first passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2009, is intended to reduce climate pollution from transportation fuels by 10 percent over the next 10 years. The goal will be accomplished by a mandate to increase the ethanol content in gasoline from 10 percent to about 25 percent.

“We all want to ensure that we’re giving our kids a future in which they can thrive,” said Rep Jessica Vega Pederson (D-East Portland) who carried the bill on the House floor. “We’re already seeing the negative impacts of climate change on our natural environment, on our businesses and in public health. If we do nothing to mitigate this threat, the damage is only going to get exponentially worse.”

Environment was not the only concern highlighted by SB 324 supporters. Carrie Nyssen, of the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific, stressed that children with asthma and adults with chronic lung disease will breathe easier with each passing year that fuels become cleaner.

The bill was rejected soundly by nearly all Republicans in the House and Senate. Among the chief concerns raised was the impact to gas prices, which are expected to climb anywhere from 19 cents to $1.06 per gallon. That in turn would adversely affect numerous facets of the state economy.

“I’m disappointed that SB 324 passed by one vote in the Oregon House,” said House Republican Leader and Powell Butte resident Mike McLane. “Even four Democrats joined Republicans in voting no on this boondoogle of a bill. I’m proud of my colleagues in the House GOP caucus for their hard work and debate on the floor and we will not stop working on behalf of Oregon families and businesses.”

Rep. John Davis (R-Wilsonville) was among those who debated the legislation, saying he was concerned about how the Low Carbon Fuel Standard will affect food prices, the cost of goods and services, and the land use system.

“There is no free lunch, my colleagues,” he said. “We will pay for this somehow tomorrow.”

Proponents of the SB 324 countered the fuel cost concerns by suggesting the new standard will open the fuels market for new competition.

“With the Clean Fuels Program, we’ll incentivize a local, homegrown industry to grow,” said Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton). “We have local businesses ready to expand to meet the demands of the low-carbon fuel market. They just need the stability this program provides.”

Shannon Baker-Branstetter, of Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, reached a similar conclusion, saying the Low Carbon Fuel Standard will improve the availability of less expensive, cleaner fuels.

“For Oregon drivers who shell out a lot of cash to fuel up, this is welcome news,” she said.