Clean Fuels: Let's get it done. It's time!

If opponents of the bill are worried about the price of gasoline, they need to look elsewhere.

By Daniel Schaffer of Keizer, Oregon. Prior to his retirement, Danny led communications efforts at a United Nations’ organization dedicated to promoting science and development in the developing world. Today, he's an Oregon Environmental Council Encore Fellow. Learn more at OEC.

When I moved to Oregon two years ago, my goal wasn’t to become a foremost expert on energy legislation. After a career working for international NGOs, I came here to be near my grandchildren.

Regular BlueOregon readers may consider me naïve, but as a relatively new citizen of this lush state what I find striking about the pending legislation to reauthorize the Clean Fuels bill (Senate Bill 324), which the House is expected to vote on this week, is not the bill’s audaciousness but its modesty.

For all of the sturm und drang around the passage of the Clean Fuels Program, it’s just… not much. First, the bill does not seek to break new ground in energy policy. Instead, it is designed to fully implement a law that has been in place since 2009.

Second, the bill calls for reducing carbon intensity by 10% over 10 years or 1% a year. To give you an idea of how modest the change is, the US Environmental Protection Agency is raising the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. That represents more than a 50% reduction in fuel consumption over the next decade (average fuel consumption in U.S. is currently 32.5 miles per gallon). If the auto industry can thrive in such a demanding regulatory environment, then surely today’s energy sector – from multinational oil companies to backyard alternative-energy startups – can prosper under the Clean Fuels bill.

Third, even the most grossly exaggerated price estimates conclude the law will raise the cost of gasoline by no more than a $1 a gallon over the next decade (many others conclude it will be much lower). That’s 10 cents a gallon per year for a product has witnessed price swings of nearly $2 over the past six months alone (from about $4 in September to less than $2.15 in January to more than $2.40 today).

Clearly, other factors – ranging from tensions in oil-rich OPEC countries, to increased fracking, to greater fuel efficiency to changes in driving habits – will dwarf any impact that this bill will have on gas prices. If opponents of the bill are worried about the price of gasoline, they need to look elsewhere.

If we add the bill’s other benefits for health, jobs, combatting climate change and promoting innovation, then the positive impacts of the bill become even clearer. As others have pointed out, Oregon has no oil refineries or production facilities, but it does have both the skilled workers (engineers, electricians and entrepreneurs) and natural resources (agricultural and wood products) needed to build a robust alternative energy sector.

In short, the Clean Fuels bill seeks to nudge Oregon towards the future without abruptly altering the current energy landscape – and its seeks to do so at a minimal cost to either the public or energy companies. Such a carefully crafted bill, which will help better position Oregon to take advantage of the global energy transition now underway, should not be sidetracked by debates and concerns that have little to do with the merits of the law.

Six years is long enough to see grandchildren be born, grow and head off to school. Six years after the legislature first passed the Clean Fuels bill is long passed time for its provisions to be fully enacted.

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