OPINION: Oregon should move to cleaner, renewable diesel fuel
Our Oregon environment is in crisis. It doesn't take a scientist to recognize our state is changing. Climate experts believe we are close to a point where our efforts will have exponentially less benefit because of the damage already done.
We must recognize a universal truth: Actions drive consequences. Industrialization, global trade and population growth have negatively impacted the sensitive ecosystems that we are dependent upon. Absent direct action, soon our air will become increasingly hostile, our lands increasingly barren and our seas increasingly lifeless — and rising. These are facts, not opinions.
It is already happening. This past June, Oregon endured a record-breaking heat dome that caused 96 deaths. Instead of fall we now have "fire season," and chronic drought is now the norm. In Klamath Falls this past summer, many farmers were devastated when 130,000 acres of farmland were denied water they typically receive from the upper lake — water they have relied on for more than a century. A Madras dairy farmer's land value has gone from $5,000 per acre to $400. With his access to water rationed, half of his land will lay fallow this year, like last.
House Bill 4141 is a straightforward, bipartisan solution that will have an immediate impact by shifting petroleum diesel users to renewable diesel, a lower-emission substitute for petroleum diesel. Beginning in 2025 within the Portland region, HB 4141 gradually would phase out obsolete petroleum diesel from sale as a fuel source. The bill includes off-ramps in the event of unexpected price spikes or limited availability before full implementation in 2029.
Renewable diesel works in any truck engine, needs zero engine modifications, will be available at the same fuel pumps used today, and will cost the same or less per gallon. In addition, vehicle maintenance costs will fall as it burns cleaner in diesel engines. Unlike biodiesel, which is made using a different process, renewable diesel does not require blending and can be used as a drop-in replacement for petroleum diesel.
Renewable diesel is made from feedstocks like animal fats, vegetable oil and used cooking oil. Looking forward, it also can be created from feedstocks like municipal garbage and wood waste. As the largest timber producing state in the nation, Oregon has the potential to transition from purely dependent on petroleum diesel imports to being self-sufficient and energy independent.
Electric trucks are the future but will take time. Until then, why not rely on a lower-emission fuel? Transportation accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. Renewable diesel has 60% less greenhouse gas than petroleum diesel.
Switching to renewable diesel can make an immediate impact and every Oregonian will enjoy environmental benefits and long-term health savings associated with cleaner fuels and safer air.
ODOT, TriMet, the cities of Portland and Eugene, as well as many Oregon businesses already have switched their fleets to renewable diesel. Ask any one of them and they will tell you it performs like "magic."
We must confront the effects of climate change in Oregon. Our approach to make significant gains does not need to be costly, overly complicated or painful. Together we can put in place smart policies such as House Bill 4141 to move us toward a more secure, more sustainable future.
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