Oregon Legislature’s top global warming bill sits on shaky ground

Source: Scott Learn, The Oregonian • Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A SeQuential Biofuels station in Eugene. (Rob Finch/The Oregonian/2008)

The main bill in Oregon’s Legislature to address global warming is coming down to the wire.

Senate Bill 488 would lift a 2015 sunset date for Oregon’s “clean fuel” program, which aims to cut the carbon in car and truck fuel 10 percent a gallon by 2025.

Five months into the legislative session, the bill passed the Senate Rules Committee 3-1 Wednesday and is headed to the Senate floor.

Both sides expect a close vote in the Senate, with days left in the session. If it passes, it would move to the House.

The Legislature’s enthusiasm for climate change bills has diminished substantially in recent years. The Legislature adopted the clean fuel program in 2009, but the Department of Environmental Quality has yet to implement it.

“The Legislature has not done anything on climate change since (it) passed the clean fuels program,” said Jana Gastellum, climate protection director for the Oregon Environmental Council. “If they don’t lift the sunset, they’re really rolling back existing environmental laws.”

Ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas and electricity are likely beneficiaries of the program. Farmers who supply biodiesel and ethanol feedstocks, from canola to wheat straw, support it.

Alternative fuel producers and suppliers say it would spur innovation, reduce reliance on foreign oil and increase investment in refineries and fueling stations. Oregon doesn’t have large oil refineries.

California is the only state to implement a low-carbon-fuel rule so far, though its rules are being challenged in court.

The trucking industry and petroleum fuel suppliers and producers say Oregon’s plan would increase fuel prices. Oregon already requires 10 percent ethanol in gasoline and 5 percent biodiesel in diesel.

The program relies on expected advances in biofuels that have been slow to materialize to reach the carbon-reduction target, said Brian Doherty, who represents the Western States Petroleum Association. Fuel suppliers would have to pay for credits if they don’t hit the targets.

“I call it faith-based regulation,” Doherty said. Federal mandates, including rules requiring cleaner diesel fuel and higher vehicle mileage, will reduce pollution, he added.

DEQ says it will stop the program if Oregon fuel prices are more than 5 percent higher than in neighboring states. Opponents say that off-ramp could take up to two years to implement.

Supporters say the standard is an important part of achieving Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, which aim to cut global-warming emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. About a third of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation.