SALEM — In another victory for Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard, a federal judge threw out a challenge to the biofuels legislation that seeks to lower carbon emissions from gasoline burned in the state.
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken dismissed the case brought by three national oil and trucking industry groups that claimed the so-called clean fuels program discriminates against out-of-state businesses and is pre-empted by the federal Clean Air Act.
The law’s supporters applauded Aiken’s decision Thursday afternoon.
“Over the last year we’ve seen that oil companies will stop at nothing to take away our clean air law in order to benefit their bottom line,” said Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council.
But the ruling comes among other challenges yet ahead for Oregon’s clean fuels program.
Three proposed ballot measures that would either drastically water down the law or repeal it entirely await a decision by the state Supreme Court on the proposed title and language issued by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
Paul Romain, a prominent lobbyist who represents businesses in the oil industry and is involved with the measures, said their backers would await a final decision by the high court before deciding which petition would move forward for the November 2016 ballot.
“No decisions will be made about which initiative moves forward until we get a final ballot title from the Supreme Court,” Romain wrote in an email Friday. “That probably will not occur until the end of this year.”
Romain also said he and others would continue to challenge any increases to the state’s primary way of funding roads — a gas tax — as long as the clean fuels program was in place.
“We will work to defeat any proposed fuel tax as long as the low-carbon fuel standard exists in its current form. If the Legislature passes a fuel tax, we will work with others to refer it to the ballot,” he wrote.
Oregon’s clean fuels program was created in 2009 as part of a multistate attempt to create a biofuels mandate throughout the West Coast. California and British Columbia are already enforcing their programs.
But the initial legislation in Oregon included a sunset date at the end of this year. Democrats narrowly voted early in this year’s legislative session to remove the sunset, allowing the program to take effect beginning next year. The program seeks to reduce carbon emissions from transportation in Oregon by 7.7 million tons by 2025.
After the vote to implement the program, Republicans said they wouldn’t support a gas tax increase needed to fund road and bridge construction unless lawmakers repealed the low-carbon fuel standard.
Gov. Kate Brown convened a group of lawmakers who tried to repeal and replace the clean fuels program with a different biofuel blending program and greenhouse gas-cutting measures such as incentives for electric vehicles. But the high-wire attempt fell apart late in the session, leaving the clean fuels program in place.
Under the program, oil companies in Oregon will need to gradually lower their fuels’ carbon intensity — a measure of the amount of greenhouse gases that will be released into the atmosphere — or buy credits to comply with the law. Credits are generated when companies produce fuel that has a lower carbon intensity than required.
Those credits sold at an average of $34 per credit in California from 2012 through 2014, according to that state’s most recent figures through September. In Oregon, one credit is equal to one ton of carbon reductions.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,