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Make sure clean fuels program works

We have a rule for government programs: They should work. And not just work for work’s sake. They should make progress toward a deserving goal.

That’s why Oregon legislators should pass Senate Bill 348. It directs that the state do a cost-benefit analysis of its low carbon fuels program.

The program’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gases. That might help with global warming. Does the state’s program produce a benefit worth the cost? Of course, Oregon lawmakers would never let a program like this continue without checking, right?

The program is designed so fuel importers gradually lower the carbon intensity of their fuels. They can do that by blending in lower carbon fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel. But if they can’t meet the toughening standards that way, they can buy credits from public transit districts, biofuel producers and other credit generators that sign up. The extra costs of fuel get passed along to consumers in what they pay at the pump.

The state claims the program is a resounding success. “Over the first two years of the program, approximately 1.7 million tonnes of GHG were reduced at a cost to comply less than a third of a penny per gallon,” the DEQ reported earlier this month.

But as Oregonians have learned from the state’s wasteful Business Energy Tax Credit Program, disastrous launch of the Oregon health care marketplace, terrible performance in caring for foster children and more, it’s always a good idea to dig beneath the surface of what the state says in happening.

The Bulletin is already in a legal battle to get public records that would explain details about how the clean fuels credit market is working. Chevron and REG, an Iowa biofuels producer, are fighting to keep those records hidden. Hmm, there couldn’t possibly be something they don’t want Oregonians to know?

Passage of SB 348 won’t answer all the needed questions about the state’s low carbon fuels program. It’s a good start.