Editorial: Drop costly state clean fuels program

GOV. JOHN Kitzhaber speaks to the media as he presents his two-year state budget proposal from his ceremonial office at the State Capitol in Salem on Dec. 1.

This editorial ran Dec. 11 in the Albany Democrat-Herald, regarding Gov. John Kithaber’s proposal for a Clean Fuels Program:

The Oregon Legislature seems likely to give yet another lease on life to the Oregon Clean Fuels Program, even though its best option would be to simply kill it — and it has an easy way to do exactly that.

However, the initiative remains a top priority for Gov. John Kitzhaber and Democrats — bolstered by the election of Sara Gelser to the Senate — who will enjoy a sturdier advantage in the 2015 Legislature.

The initiative, which is meant to help combat climate change, means well — but it never has been clear that it would have any significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, chances seem good that it could trigger an increase in the prices businesses and consumers pay at the pump.

On top of all that, the program seems certain to trigger a bureaucratic nightmare for businesses trying to comply with its intricacies.

In essence, the program would require fuel suppliers and distributors to cut the carbon in car and truck fuel by 10 percent by the year 2025. Under the plan, fuel producers and distributors would have to provide cleaner fuel mixes or buy credits from providers of lower-emission fuels such as biodiesel and natural gas.

The program needs to be extended by next year’s Legislature, or it will die.

It’s been a long road already for the program: The Legislature adopted it in 2009, with the idea being to have the rules in place to implement it by 2011. But by the time 2013 rolled around, the department had only managed to work out the rules for the first phase of the program.

This long gestation period does little to fill one with confidence that the rules, when they finally emerge, will be easy for consumers and businesses to work through.

In any event, the program never has been fully implemented because of its 2015 sunset date.

A 2013 attempt to eliminate the sunset date stalled in the Senate, thanks to business-friendly Democrat Betsy Johnson. Now, thanks to Gelser’s election, Democrats presumably have enough votes to move ahead, regardless of how Johnson votes.

Nevertheless, the Legislature still should kill the program. The state says it doesn’t know how much the program will cost Oregonians, but assumes a per-gallon increase of anywhere between 4 to 19 cents by 2025.

State officials have said they’d stop the program if fuel prices in Oregon are more than 5 percent higher than in neighboring states, but raise your hand if you believe that. And the program seems guaranteed to create a bureaucratic nightmare.

Worse, this may be the second measure the Legislature considers in 2015 that could boost the fees drivers pay: The session likely will take up a separate road-funding package.

That particular proposal seems vital to the state’s infrastructure. The Clean Fuels Program seems considerably less vital. The Legislature should let it drop.

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