Climate Victory! Oregon Clean Fuels Standard Now Strongest in the Nation

Oregon just took a huge step toward reducing climate and air pollution from our top emitting sector. The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) today adopted an expanded Clean Fuels Program, more than tripling our existing standard to make it the strongest in the nation. See our joint press release here.

The EQC-adopted rules expand the CFP to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels 20% below 2015 levels by 2030 and 37% below 2015 levels by 2035. These significantly strengthened carbon intensity reduction targets will be essential to ensuring near-term reductions of climate emissions and co-pollutants in the transportation sector.

Originally adopted by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in 2016, the Clean Fuels Program is one of Oregon’s most successful policies for reducing climate pollution: in just six years, it has cut nearly 7.3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions! Key to the program’s success is its holistic, “well-to-wheels” approach to measuring emissions from vehicle pollution. The program looks at the climate impact from how a fuel was extracted, processed, and transported, to its final use. It then assigns a “carbon intensity” score for each type of fuel, and requires reductions in carbon intensity of those fuels over time. 

Businesses, local governments, school districts, and others that create or use fuels that are cleaner than the limit generate credits, while higher carbon intensity fuels create deficits. For example, an Oregon-based company that refines waste grease (a product that would normally end up in a landfill and create methane emissions) into biodiesel or a transit agency that invests in electric buses would create credits, whereas an oil company based in Nebraska that transports and supplies traditional gasoline or diesel in Oregon would generate deficits. 

Clean Fuels Program Overview – Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Credits are only created when clean fuels are used in Oregon and displace the use of higher-carbon fuels. Businesses that sell high carbon fuels have to balance out the number of deficits they hold by purchasing credits, which in turn produce revenue to pay for projects that lower climate pollution, such as installing electric charging stations or purchasing an electric school bus. The Clean Fuels Program encourages further reductions in carbon intensity by allowing a fuel provider to sell credits they have earned by going beyond the reduction goals for that year. 

The result has been cleaner fuels, better health outcomes, and a more vibrant economy. Notable benefits from the program’s six first years include: 

  • Oregonians burned 1 billion fewer gallons of fossil fuels.
  • Improved local air quality and public health, saving people in Oregon millions of dollars in avoided health costs. 
  • $100 million annually in the clean fuels market, leading to increased production of lower-cost, low-carbon fuels, technological innovation, and electric vehicle infrastructure.    

In addition to these many benefits, the Clean Fuels Program has helped increase energy security and protect Oregonians against harmful oil and gas price fluctuations at the pump. The fact is, the more we move toward electric vehicles and cleaner fuels made in Oregon, the less Oregonians have to worry about the price of oil and gas being determined half a world away.    

Recognizing the important role of the Clean Fuels Program in achieving Oregon’s climate goals, Governor Brown directed the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to extend and expand the program’s carbon intensity targets to achieve greater climate pollution reductions by 2035. DEQ worked to implement this directive through a nearly year-long rulemaking process. OEC served as a member of the advisory committee that helped to inform the Clean Fuels Program expansion. 

We are pleased that the EQC-adopted rules meet the level of ambition that science demands, by expanding the carbon intensity reduction targets to at least 20% below 2015 levels by 2030 and 37% below 2015 levels by 2035. The expanded Clean Fuels Program will help create jobs in the clean fuels economy, improve public health by reducing harmful co-pollutants from tailpipe emissions, and invest in local communities and economies.

The Environmental Center E-bus Tour | Neil Baunsgard

As we move forward with the next phase of implementation, OEC will continue advocating to maximize clean air, climate, and health benefits, by working to ensure that carbon intensity reduction targets are achieved through electrification as much as possible. At the same time, we will work to ensure that this program prioritizes equitable economic outcomes, by encouraging credit-generating utilities to fund affordable and accessible public charging infrastructure in underserved areas such as low-income, BIPOC and rural communities.

While this is a significant win, we know there is more work to do to achieve a more equitable, climate-smart transportation system. OEC will continue to advocate for policies and investments to reduce the amount we rely on cars, which we can do in part through smarter community design like transit-oriented housing development. We also have the opportunity to reshape the transportation system through policies and investments that prioritize accessible, affordable, and safe transportation options–like public transit, walking, and biking–and electrify all the remaining driving. 

While there is much work ahead, today is a day to celebrate leaders in Oregon for advancing needed progress in the fight for a healthy climate future.

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