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Small climate steps add up to big ones

If there were a magic bullet for global climate change — a single, massive effort that would stop the inexorable warming trend and begin to reverse it — it might be a simpler matter to convince everyone that it should be undertaken. But there isn't. Instead, there are myriad small steps that, when added together, might have a chance of success.

The problem with small steps is it's easy to criticize them for being inconsequential by themselves. That's the case with the Oregon's proposed clean fuel standard for motor vehicle fuels sold in the state.

Senate Bill 324 would require fuel producers to reduce the carbon content of car and truck fuels over the next 10 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would require importers to reduce the carbon content of fuel by 10 percent between 2016 and 2025.

That would amount to a 3 percent reduction in Oregon's overall greenhouse gas emissions.

"Too little," opponents say. "Insignificant." And, they add, not worth the price. Opponents say achieving the standard would make it more expensive to produce the fuels, a cost that would be passed on to motorists.

Supporters and opponents disagree on how much the bill would boost prices at the pump. California has a similar law and has not seen dramatic price increases.

The clean fuel concept was adopted in 2009, and the Department of Environmental Quality has been working out the details since. To implement it now means the Legislature must vote to extend the program.

The other big objection to the bill involves the market in clean-fuel credits that would be created. Fuel producers unable to find low-carbon additives to meet the standard could purchase credits from entities that did something to reduce the carbon emissions or from producers of lower-carbon alternative fuels, who could use the proceeds to expand their businesses,

Republican opponents say the bill doesn't give the DEQ enough power to regulate this new market — an odd argument from a party that usually calls for less regulation, not more.

That the world's climate is changing as a result of human activity is no longer subject to serious debate. The only question remaining is what we intend to do about it.

We can throw up our hands and dismiss incremental steps such as the clean fuels program, or we can recognize that enough small steps add up to big strides, and join the effort instead.