Oregon Clean Fuels Program: Building Back Better

OEC’s Deputy Director for Programs, Jana Gastellum, and Climate Program Director, Nora Apter, recently sat down for a socially distanced conversation about the Oregon Clean Fuels Program—the labor of love that it has taken to get the program up and running, the opportunity we have now to build on those past successes, and why Oregonians should be excited about it.

Nora: I’ve sometimes heard you joke about the Clean Fuels Program as your third baby. Can you talk a bit about the campaign behind getting this program in place?

This is a third child because you have to have the same love and ferocity that a mother has for a child to do climate work. When you are fighting to protect people you cannot give up in the face of extreme opposition and challenges. You have to have the inner resiliency to keep moving forward. I’m really proud of that work and really grateful to the many people who have been part of moving that forward. 

Jana: Getting the Clean Fuels Program up and running has been a real labor of love. It has been a battle. Any time you are trying to make big change, you think about what was in place before. The oil industry has had monopoly control over the production, supply, and distribution of transportation fuel, and fought to keep this program from going into place in Oregon. Not only did we face legislative battles, but the oil industry brought lawsuits against the program. They threatened ballot measures. But those were ultimately just threats. We did polling and we found out people really want clean fuels. So, we called the oil industry’s bluff and they didn’t go through with it. We’ve had to fight every step of the way for clean air and climate protections.  

Nora: The Clean Fuels Program is largely regarded as a huge success. What does that success look like in terms of climate and communities in Oregon? 

Jana: The Clean Fuels Program in its first four years has cut four million tons of climate pollution. That means cleaner fuels are being used right here in Oregon, giving people more options and more choices. When we convert to cleaner fuels, they’re often not just cleaner for the climate but also for air quality. That translates into real health benefits for communities. And it means real jobs on the ground for real Oregonians. 

Nora: Governor Brown recently signed a sweeping executive order on the climate crisis, which we’ve dubbed the Oregon Climate Action Plan. How does this build on the past successes of the Clean Fuels Program?  

Jana: First of all, the executive order was able to be as bold and sweeping as it is in part because of some of the building blocks that were put in place… Every step forward we can make on climate matters and it’s something that we can build on. Under Governor Brown’s executive order, the Clean Fuels Program is now going to become the most ambitious and innovative of any in the country. 

Nora: Why should Oregonians be excited about the Clean Fuel Program’s opportunities under the Oregon Climate Action Plan?

Jana: Oregonians are going to have more options available to them. More options mean more charging stations in public and in residences or apartment buildings. It means that the vehicles around them are not only going to emit less climate pollution but also be better for their health. It means that there should be more opportunities for electricians and engineers and all the many jobs that create transportation fuels in our state. Oregonians should be excited about being a leader in this space. 

Nora: Is there anything else about Clean Fuels that you want people to know? 

Jana: The real takeaway is that change is possible. A generation ago, imagining transportation running on anything other than oil might have been hard for people to imagine. For kids growing up today, it’s the norm. We can’t stand in the way of the innovation and change that has to be made—quickly—and people should get excited about those big changes, and know that it’s possible. 

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