Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, believes it is possible that Oregonians could be paying about 25 cents more for each gallon of gas by the end of the 2015 legislative session.
And that does not include the proposed 12 cent per gallon federal gas tax increase.
If Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is implemented, Huffman said the Department of Environmental Quality projects up to an additional 19 cents per gallon at the pump.
The standard is set to expire at the end of 2015 unless the Legislature decides to extend or follow the governor’s recommendation that the sunset clause be dropped altogether.
The first hearing on the issue is expected to take place Monday, the first day of the five-month legislative session.
“I am a fiscal conservative and plan to ask some hard questions about what this program will really accomplish and how it is even measurable,” said Huffman.
“They are going to have to prove to me that we are dramatically improving the quality of life for Oregonians with this investment.” He also expects the Legislature to consider a transportation-related package that includes a fuel tax increase of at least 5 cents per gallon.
“Speculation is that there may be other revenue components as well,” he said.
One of these might be the carbon tax that Kitzhaber advocated for in his most recent election.
In 2013, the Legislature approved a study on the feasibility of implementing the tax as a revenue source.
The results of that analysis showed the tax benefitting the economy by creating new jobs while also protecting the environment.
British Columbia, Canada, has a carbon tax of $60 per ton, which some Oregon officials want to follow, with a regular adjustment for inflation.
Because the tax would apply to companies that contribute to greenhouse gases, Huffman said there is the potential that businesses may be driven out of the state by the cost. And that would eliminate jobs that are vital to the economic recovery.
Oregon’s clean fuels standard was approved by the Legislature in 2009 and, since that time, DEQ has has been collecting information on fuels that are imported into the state. That information has been used to create a baseline against which future reductions in carbon will be measured.
The premise behind the program is that one-third of Oregon’s greenhouse gases come from transportation sources, and those emissions can be reduced with blends of lower carbon ethanol and biodiesel and use of electricity, natural gas, biogas and propane.
The fuel standards program requires fuel providers to reduce the carbon content of their products or purchase credits from renewable energy companies. Although DEQ has announced implementation of the program on Feb. 1, the rules will not go into play unless the Legislature acts, which Democrats have vowed to do.
Huffman said the goal behind the program is to raise the price of fossil fuels to make renewable energy — wind, solar, biofuel and hydrogen fuel cells — more competitive in the marketplace.
The problem with that plan, he said, is that many Oregon families are struggling — especially in rural areas — and adding more pain at the pump takes away money they need for food and household needs.
If the standard is enacted, DEQ anticipates a 10 percent reduction of greenhouse gases from transportation fuels over a 10-year period.
Kitzhaber contends that lower carbon fuels are critical to the states’ environmental and economic future.
He anticipates that California, which has a similar program, and Oregon will be the forerunners of what will become a national movement.
Democrats have the majority in both the House and Senate but the tax associated with the fuel standard requires a three-fifths supermajority. In order to implement the fuel standards, at least one GOP vote will be needed in the House and every Democrat in the Senate must sign on.
Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the top Republican in the Senate, has called the fuel standard “an issue of symbolism.”
He and Huffman represent portions of Wasco County and are in agreement that Oregon’s contribution to greenhouse gases is too tiny to warrant additional regulation.
“From everything I’ve read, Oregon is one of the greenest, cleanest states already,” said Huffman.
He said DEQ has determined that Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions have actually been on a slight decrease since 2010.
And the miniscule amount now produced is insignificant compared to China, the world’s largest polluter, according to Huffman.
“That leaves me to ask how effective it is for Oregon to impose these higher costs on its citizens when we are not the problem and other states, as well as polluting countries, are not participating in this program?” he asked.
“We’re talking global but we’re not looking global – we’re looking at Oregon.”
Although President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders have talked about instituting a carbon tax at the federal level, Huffman said the GOP takeover of the House and Senate has made that an improbability.
Although he treads cautiously around tax increases, Huffman said he is not opposed to looking at “reasonable” revenue increases to maintain Oregon’s roadways.
“I love driving on nice roads and getting over bridges safely,” he said. “I just want to know that, whatever we do, we are getting the most bang for our buck.”
Part of the ongoing financial problems facing state governments, he said, is that federal regulators keep imposing unfunded mandates.
He said less money is available from federal agencies for everything from social programs to forest management. And it is becoming more difficult for states to pick up the tab.
The more money that has to be spent to meet federal rules, said Huffman, the less is available for other essential services.
“We have to keep looking for more revenue from taxpayers to get things done — it’s very frustrating,” he said.