Today, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality holds a public hearing on its low carbon fuel standards, a scheme to push Oregonians to use cleaner fuel. It will do so because back in February the governor asked it to, although the law requiring the standards sunsets next year.

The standards themselves cannot be met, says Paul Romain, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Oregon Fuels Association, which, he notes, sells ethanol and other alternatives right alongside gasoline and diesel. He argues alternatives are not well-enough developed to meet demand.

The DEQ disputes that claim. Cory Wind of the agency notes that there’s commercially available diesel from tallow, soybeans and canola already, as well as ethanol from both sugar cane and sorghum. Too, such things as natural gas, hydrogen and electricity are already fueling vehicles.

Meanwhile, the law allows for that with what’s essentially a cap-and-tax system on standard fuels. Fuel producers would purchase credits that would let them to continue selling conventional fuels, then pass the cost of those credits on to customers.

There’s disagreement about how much that tax-by-another-name would cost, to be sure. DEQ estimates it would add something between 6 cents and 19 cents to each gallon of fuel purchased; the fuels association pegs the cost at between 33 cents and more than $1. Either way, Oregonians could not vote to repeal the tax, because it’s been disguised in a cap-and- tax costume.

The low carbon fuels law at the root of all this was billed as something good for both the economy and the environment. Supporters promised a 29,000-job boost from the ethanol plants that would be built here, though that hasn’t happened yet. The environment would benefit from all that clean fuel.

If this reminds you of the state’s Business Energy Tax Credit program at its worst, it should. You are likely to drive at some disputed additional cost, and that money will, in turn, be given to alternate fuel producers. The cost will fall directly on every car, truck and lawnmower owner in Oregon.

If the DEQ is unwilling to end the exercise now, the Legislature should do it come 2015.

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