Editorial: Bad bill fueled by wrong priorities (April 5, 2023)

Scott Swanson

A bill that’s making progress in the Oregon state Legislature is one that every rural Oregonian needs to pay attention to and weigh in on.

Senate Bill 803, currently being heard by the Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment, would effectively ban the use of petroleum-based diesel in motor vehicles on Oregon’s roads throughout the state by 2030 – seven years from now.

The bill makes no provisions to address the obvious impacts on transportation methods that depend on diesel fuel and the businesses and individuals who rely on such. The assumption would be that users of diesel would be able to find non-fossil fuel-based alternatives to the diesel we currently buy at the pump.

Except that it does not make any provisions for that. To put it bluntly, this is another pie-in-the-sky initiative that will hurt Oregonians, particularly those who live in rural portions of the state.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the bill has received substantial opposition in hearings and in writing, including from Sweet Home and Linn County – and for good reason. Support, perhaps not surprisingly, has been largely concentrated in the Portland metro area.

The Oregon Citizens Lobby, a volunteer group that analyzes and monitors legislative activity, notes that renewable diesel available to meet Oregon’s fuel needs is already limited and “the bill does nothing to improve the supply.”

If this bill makes it to the governor’s signature, it will hurt Oregonians in multiple ways. Prices have already skyrocketed, thanks in part to the doubling of diesel fuel prices.

Speaking strictly from the field of agriculture, a staple of Linn County’s economy, we’ve all seen significantly higher prices at the grocery store, thanks to rising costs of production. The near-doubling of conventional diesel and fertilizer prices have already delivered sticker shock to many consumers, not to mention the impact on jobs and suppliers as agricultural interests try to maintain some profit.

What would this new law do to producers, to workers, to consumers, to prices?

It will put local trucking firms out of business, pure and simple. It would impact loggers. It would impact school districts that power their buses with diesel. Fire districts. Etc. Etc.

Oregon is already moving toward cleaner fuels, thanks to many regulations and incentives passed by the Legislature to increase their use. Then there’s Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order mandating steep greenhouse gas reductions in the state, issued after Republican lawmakers blocked cap-and-trade legislation in the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions by walking out, denying majority Democrats the quorum they needed to pass the proposal. The state Department of Environmental Quality is already considering a rule that would more than double the clean fuels standard.

The DEQ has also adopted rules banning the sale of internal combustion cars by the year 2035, which is going to hit a lot of Oregonians hard and which raises other questions, since the rule comes from individuals who aren’t even elected, who are doing an end run around the citizenry.

House Bill 3022, which would have  prohibited the DEQ from adopting or enforcing rules or standards related to motor vehicle fuels or emissions unless authorized by the Legislature, an effort to curtail the authority of an administrative agency, died in the House Committee On Climate, Energy, and Environment.

Oregon legislators’ interest in cleaner air is commendable as a goal, but it is incumbent on them to consider the impacts of proposed legislation on the people who live at the ground level. Stewardship includes consideration of how laws passed in Salem are going to affect Oregon residents on the farm, on the highways, at the grocery store.

Legislators tell us they sincerely want to hear from consitutents. Legislators really do pay attention to what they realize is concerted input on issues. Rural residents need to pull their heads out of the sand and speak up if they want to have any say on these issues.

All it takes is a personal email or a phone call.