Oregon Clean Fuels Program

By Robin Hahnel

Roughly one-third of Oregon’s greenhouse gases come from the transportation sector. In 2009 the state legislature passed House Bill 2186 authorizing the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to adopt rules to reduce the average carbon intensity of Oregon’s transportation fuels to 10 percent below the 2010 emissions. However, the oil industry fought against regulation from the get-go, and lobbied heavily to allow the bill to sunset in 2016, which would have re-established the industry’s monopoly over fuel choice in Oregon. A broad coalition of environmental organizations, led by Oregon Climate Solutions, lobbied successfully in 2015 for the passage of Senate Bill 324. This allowed the  Department of Environmental Quality to fully implement the Clean Fuels Program in 2016.

The Clean Fuels Program aims to lower carbon emissions in the transportation sector in Oregon by 10 percent over 10 years – from 2010-2020. It requires oil companies to blend low-carbon biofuels, or to purchase credits that support electric vehicles, natural gas, and other cleaner fuel alternatives to reduce emissions. And since Oregon has abundant clean fuels available from farms, forests, and waste disposal facilities, the program creates market demand for local fuel alternatives.

The oil industry is the most powerful opponent — with the deepest pockets and well placed political assets – which environmentalists face in our battle to de-carbonize before it is too late. Because the clean fuels program is aimed directly at big oil, it challenges the organizational and political skills of environmental organizations in Oregon as never before. The real story lies in the educational campaign waged to inform the general public and rebut false claims from industry spokespersons and the strategy used to form the broadest possible coalition of organizations in support of SB 324. Various coalition partners pressured and worked with State Representatives, State Senators, the Democratic Party leadership, and the Governor’s office to defeat endless attempts to water down and derail the bill, which did not cease even after it was passed and signed into law!