Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



As some of you know, I am not a native Oregonian. In fact, since I hail from the great state of Maine, I’m about as far from a native Oregonian as one could be and still have been raised somewhere in the contiguous United States.

Occasionally, I do miss the rocky coasts and thick evergreen forests of my homeland, but for the most part, I love living in Oregon, especially when we’re enjoying sunshine and T-shirt weather and my friends back in Maine are enduring blizzards.

It’s much more than the climate. I love the people and culture of the Beaver State, the progressive politics, the diversity and tolerance, the awareness of nature and the need to protect it, the respect for agriculture, the wonderful weirdness of Portland.

But, I have to admit, there is one thing I can’t stand about living here: the fact that I can’t pump my own gas.

I know I’m in the minority here (not that that’s ever stopped me before). Oregon’s lonely ban on self-service gasoline (only New Jersey has a similar prohibition) is actually pretty popular, and has never been seriously challenged in the Legislature since it was instituted in 1951.

Though a Public Policy Polling study last summer indicated a possible narrow majority of Oregonians favoring a repeal — 46 to 44 percent — the one time the issue was put before voters, in a 1982 referendum sponsored by service station owners, it was soundly defeated by a 15-point margin.

That poll did find self-service gas stations were much more popular among those under 45 — with 53 percent in favor of doing our own pumping and only 33 percent opposed — but I guess my demographic would have to start showing some kind of marginal interest in exercising our right to vote before our opinions carry much weight with the powers that be.

I know why I don’t like the ban: It annoys me, as I imagine it annoys most people who have ever lived in a state that allows the general public to fill their own gas tanks.

I don’t like waiting 10 minutes during rush hour for an open pump and then waiting another 15 minutes while the one attendant completes my and a dozen other costumers’ transactions — especially since I know the whole process would take all of three minutes if I could do it myself.

And I know the reasoning behind the ban. At least, I thought I did. Supporters of the prohibition (which, in my experience, includes most native Oregonians) have told me its main purpose is to create jobs.

That makes some sense to me, and I’m not about to argue we should do away with a sizeable job sector when so many people are still hurting financially and looking for work. Only, imagine my surprise when I actually read the text of the statute behind this ban, and found that increasing employment opportunities is only one of the 17 justifications the Oregon Legislature declared in support of this law (it’s No. 14).

Seventeen different and unique supporting arguments would seem to point to a pretty well-founded and necessary law, unless most of the 17 points are bizarre, nonsensical and even offensive, which I would argue is the case here.

But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

Reason No. 1: “The dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids by dispensers properly trained in appropriate safety procedures reduces fire hazards directly associated with the dispensing of Class 1 flammable liquids.”

In other words, people need special training in how to push a button, insert a nozzle and squeeze a handle or we will all set ourselves on fire like the guys in the “freak gasoline fight accident” scene from “Zoolander.”

Now you understand why “self-pumping gasoline explosions” is the perennial leading cause of death in every state except Oregon and New Jersey.

Reason No. 4: “The dangers of crime and slick surfaces described in subsection (3) of this section are enhanced because Oregon’s weather is uniquely adverse, causing wet pavement and reduced visibility.”

Um … yeah. It rains a lot in Oregon, which somehow influences people toward committing crime, therefore, no self-service gasoline! Makes perfect sense, and it explains why I always get the urge to rob a bank whenever the sky turns cloudy.

Reason No. 5: “The dangers described in subsection (3) of this section are heightened when the customer is a senior citizen or has a disability, especially if the customer uses a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, walker, cane or crutches.”

This is where the justifications behind Oregon Revised Statutes 480.315 start leaning toward the offensive. Essentially, this subsection says that while people in general are in danger of setting themselves on fire whenever they handle gasoline, senior citizens and those with disabilities are “especially” in danger of setting themselves on fire.

I don’t know if any member of the Oregon Legislature has ever pumped his or her own gas before, but I have, and it’s not rocket science. It is, in fact, far less complicated than driving a car. So, regardless of soundness of mind or body, if a person is capable of driving a car, that same individual is also capable of pumping their own gas. Period.

Reasons No. 7 and 9: “Exposure to toxic fumes represents a health hazard to customers dispensing Class 1 flammable liquids. … The exposure to Class 1 flammable liquids through dispensing should, in general, be limited to as few individuals as possible, such as gasoline station owners and their employees or other trained and certified dispensers.”

In this breathtaking leap of logic, the Legislature declared that exposure to gasoline fumes is potentially hazardous, so the best solution is to make a small number of people smell them constantly for eight hours a day, rather than let everyone smell them for only a few minutes once a week or so.

Reason No. 10: “The typical practice of charging significantly higher prices for full-service fuel dispensing in states where self-service is permitted at retail: Discriminates against customers with lower incomes, who are under greater economic pressure to subject themselves to the inconvenience and hazards of self-service (and) discriminates against customers who are elderly or have disabilities who are unable to serve themselves and so must pay the significantly higher prices.”

Continuing along the same line of thinking, the Legislature found that, obviously, it’s unfair for those who want or need an added service to pay more than those who don’t want or need the service.

This would be sort of like requiring all airline passengers to cough up an extra $50 just because some people enjoy the convenience of checking a bag. It’s a legislatively mandated rip-off.

Reason No. 17: “Small children left unattended when customers leave to make payment at retail self-service stations creates a dangerous situation.”

… Especially if it’s raining, in which case, the child would probably be tempted to undertake a crime spree.

This little exercise in nanny state government overreach was probably included for no other reason than that no legal justification would be complete without some version of “It’s for the children.”

OK, so I may not have been the most fair to our esteemed lawmakers in this column. I admit, I cherry-picked my little list to make the basis for the prohibition seem as silly as possible.

At the end of the day, I know Oregon’s self-service gas ban is going nowhere, because the issue is as much cultural as it is economic or political. It’s part of the state’s identity, like our vote-by-mail system or the absence of a sales tax.

For better or worse, it’s part of what makes Oregon Oregon, and for that reason alone, I’m sure I can learn to live with it.

Even if it does drive me crazy.

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