An Oregon program aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by promoting cleaner fuels is a new step in a regional partnership that could provide a guide for the federal government as President Obama pushes his climate agenda.
Beginning Jan. 1, more than six years after the Oregon legislature passed it, the Clean Fuels Program requires distributors to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels by 10 percent by 2025. The state defines the carbon intensity of a fuel as the total amount of pollution caused by the production, transportation, storage and use of a vehicle's fuel.
Cory-Ann Wind, program manager for the Oregon Clean Fuels Program, said the program aims to motivate fuel distributors to develop forms of fuel that have fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline.
State officials point to cleaner forms of ethanol, biofuels, natural gas, biogas, electricity, propane and hydrogen fuel cells as potential routes for development. Those fuels all have lower carbon scores than typical diesel and gasoline.
"The primary goal of this is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the state of Oregon by 10 percent and have a reduction in our average carbon intensity over the 10-year period," she said. Many scientists blame the emissions, created from burning fossil fuels, for driving manmade climate change.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in March signed the bill allowing the program to start Jan. 1 over the objections of state Republicans and some rural Democrats.
The controversial program almost hit a pothole during talks this summer among lawmakers and Brown's office about how to reconcile a potential transportation package with the low carbon fuel policy. Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer spoke with Brown about protecting the fuel program, the Washington Examiner's Sarah Westwood reported last month, and a day later Democratic lawmakers said they refused to use the program as a bargaining chip in the transportation package. The talks eventually broke down.
The Clean Fuels Program is a part of a statewide push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. About one-third of Oregon's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, Wind said. By reducing the carbon intensity of fuels by 10 percent over the next decade, Oregon could prevent 7.7 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, she said.
Enough low-carbon fuels are available to meet the Oregon standards by 2025, according to a 2014 study by ICF International comissioned by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
The program is similar to an initiative in place in California. Oregon has been working with its southern neighbor as it develops its own program.
The partnership between the two states is a part of a larger regional entity, the Pacific Coast Collaboration, which also includes Washington and British Columbia, that works together on climate initiatives. The beginning of Oregon's Clean Fuel Program leaves Washington as the only member of the partnership without a plan to promote cleaner fuels.
The program has raised concerns about its effect on energy prices. A state website points out all the cleaner fuels are cheaper for the consumer than gasoline and diesel, but a study has shown fuel prices could increase between 4 and 19 cents.
Still, Wind says it could be a net positive for consumers.
"As they see more options, they should see a decrease … in the retail price for the liquid fuels, for the gas and diesel," she said.
Oregon has a state Renewable Fuel Standard that prohibits gasoline from containing more than 10 percent ethanol. That state law will keep fuel distributors from simply adding more ethanol to gasoline supplies, she said.