Image for New DEQ Rule Seeks Major Transportation Emission Cuts

The Department of Environmental Quality released its Climate Protection Program that would cap carbon dioxide emissions from cars, trucks and buses at 80 percent by 2050. Public comment on program rules will be open until October 25.

Aggressive reductions in the transportation sector, which accounted for 36 percent of Oregon’s CO2 emissions in 2019, is the alternative Governor Brown ordered in lieu of a cap-and-trade regime that the legislature failed to pass over two sessions. DEQ Director Richard Whitman called the program a “smarter alternative” to California’s cap-and-trade system that has been criticized by environmental justice advocates.

Transportation industry officials complain the program goals will result in higher fuel costs. Oregon fuel suppliers warn the caps could lead to supply shortages and “skyrocketing prices for both fossil fuels and biofuels”. Environmental advocates say the reductions anticipated by the program won’t come soon enough to head off global climate change that is a factor in more intensive wildfires. 

Under the proposed rule, fossil fuel distributors would face a declining emission cap they would achieve by switching to renewable fuels or electricity. Whitman predicted the plan would force spending to “reduce emissions in the communities most at risk”.

There’s a lot of fear about this. We have analyzed this, and we feel confident that there is a way to get there.” – DEQ Director Richard Whitman

Jana Jarvis, president of the Oregon Trucking Associations, told OPB “there is no economically viable electric vehicle” available now. That could change. Daimler, which designs and produces trucks in Oregon, advertises it is or will manufacture “fully electric, local emission-free” cars and trucks. In the 2021 Oregon legislative session, one local trucking firm pushed a measure that would require  phase out fossil diesel and encourage alternatives such as renewable diesel fuel, which is a drop-in, lower-emission replacement for fossil fuel diesel.

Electric cars are becoming more popular as public investments increase for a wider network of electric charging stations. President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative pending in Congress would invest in a national network of charging stations and research on battery technology.

The Climate Protection Program also requires 13 industrial facilities to implement best available emission technology. Power plants relying on natural gas are covered by a new law passed by the legislature that mandates utilities reduce CO2 emissions to zero by 2040. Whitman says the existing Oregon Clean Fuels Program and an ordered phase-out of coal-fired plants have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

The mandatory 5 percent reduction in carbon intensity under the Clean Fuels Program increased fuel prices by 4 cents per gallon, according to an analysis. Reduction targets under the program ramp up to 25 percent by 2035, which Whitman said was factored into the new plan’s 80 percent reduction target by 2050.

“There’s a lot of fear about this and I understand that,” Whitman told OPB. “We have analyzed this, and we feel confident that there is a way to get there. But we’re running out of time. It’s time to get started. We’ll continue to tweak this as we need to, to improve it. If we run into problems, we’ll work with people to fix them.”

After the end of the public comment period, the Environmental Quality Commission will consider adoption of the Climate Protection Program and potential amendments.