Let the sun set on this one

'Clean fuels' initiative is well-intentioned but unlikely to make a dent in emissions

One of the decisions facing the 2013 session of the Legislature will be whether to lift a sunset date for the state's "clean fuels" initiative, otherwise known as the Oregon Clean Fuels Program.

The initiative, intended largely to help combat climate change, means well. But it's not clear at all whether it will have any impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and the likely downside is significant: A hefty increase in the amount consumers and businesses will pay at the pump.

When the Legislature enacted the program in its 2009 session, it set a sunset date of 2015. That date still stands, unless the Legislature takes action in this session to remove it.

The Legislature should keep the sunset date in place.

Already, the program has imposed a batch of new paperwork regulations onto businesses: The state Environmental Quality Commission earlier this month gave a green light to the first phase of the program, which requires that fuel distributors begin reporting the carbon content of car and truck fuel used in the state. The department itself figures the cost of compliance with these regulations at more than $2 million a year for fuel producers and importers, and our guess is that the estimate is low.

Guess who will be picking up that tab.

And these regulations are the cheap half of the Clean Fuels Program.

The department will approach the 2013 session about the second half, in which fuel providers and importers would be required to cut the carbon content of that fuel by 10 percent a gallon by 2025.

The goal is to push alternatives to gasoline and diesel — options such as ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas and electricity. A side benefit might be to give a boost to Oregon's nascent biofuels industry.

But the almost certain result between now and 2025 would be to hammer consumers and businesses at the pump.

The program does contain a mechanism that would, in theory, serve to protect consumers from ruinous price increases, but the mechanism is so convoluted and cumbersome that it seems unlikely to provide any timely relief.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has said the state won't go ahead with the second half of the program unless the Legislature removes the 2015 sunset date.

Here's a case where legislative inaction likely is the best course.

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