Punishment of rural Oregon continues by Portland elites

Sen Doug Whitsett

Severe consequences of biofuels for people in colder rural areas – including school children who are left standing outside in freezing temperatures waiting for buses with plugged fuel filters

by Sen. Doug Whitsett

Much has been made over the years regarding Oregon’s urban-rural divide, and for good reason.

Nearly 75 percent of the state’s population lives in the Willamette Valley. The people there are often unaware of the struggles facing residents in the state’s more sparsely populated areas. The elected officials in the Portland metropolitan region dominate Oregon politically and sometimes create public policies that can adversely affect people in the more rural areas. They tend to think in terms of city blocks travelled, whereas we think in terms of hours travelled.

A clear example of this disconnect took place recently.

Oregon’s largely urban policymakers have been eager to adopt legislation mandating the use of biofuels in the name of reducing emissions and saving the environment. These aspirational policies have not been without unintended outcomes. In the case of biofuels, those consequences are already proving quite severe for people in rural areas.

The Cascade Mountains serve as a physical and metaphoric dividing line between the urban and most rural parts of Oregon. Subzero temperatures are much more common in the high country east of the Cascade summit. Under those conditions, biodiesel fuel used to power essential vehicles and equipment gels, and even coagulates. The certain result is plugged fuel filters that impair engine performance and cause diesel engines to stop running properly, or at all.

This reality prompted me to draft two pieces of legislation to address the problem.

Senate Bill 163 would eliminate biodiesel blending requirements from off-road diesel that is exempt from excise tax sold in counties east of the Cascade summit from October 1 through February 28. SB 164 provides for the sale of biodiesel-free fuel by stipulating that the sale of diesel fuel that contains a specified percentage of biodiesel or other renewable diesel does not apply to sales in counties east of the Cascade summit from November 1 through February 28.

A public hearing on these bills took place in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Monday, April 13. I joined representatives from the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Trucking Association in giving testimony in support of the bills.

However, the bills were not without opposition.

A representative from the National Biodiesel Board provided written testimony against the bills, and also spoke out in opposition to them during the public hearing.

In the written testimony, the representative stated that “we are not aware of any cold weather operability issues that have occurred since biodiesel’s ASTM specification was optimized for cold weather performance in 2011.” It was also claimed that “the difference in cold flow between a 5% biodiesel blend and 100% petroleum are now less than half of one degree Fahrenheit.”

Information that my office has received from school officials from Senate District 28 completely and conclusively contradicts that testimony.

The community of Lakeview is located at an altitude of 4800 feet. The average route time for school buses in that area is around one hour each way, and other bus trips can vary between one and a half and seven hours.

Gelling biodiesel causes the fuel lines, including the fuel filter, to become plugged, preventing fuel from flowing to the engine. Once the engine has stopped running, it is not possible to heat the passenger area of the busses where the children are seated. This creates a very cold and potentially unsafe environment for those students.

If this happens, a bus would have to be towed and heated to a higher temperature to allow the biodiesel to flow again. The nearest equipment capable of towing a school bus is located 90 miles away in Klamath Falls. The cost of towing, as well as cleaning and replacing damaged parts, can cost more than $6,000 per bus! The school district owns eleven diesel-powered buses. Those costs must be paid and serve to divert funds from the classroom, and from paying teachers to educate our children.

The Bend-LaPine School District reports that it has had school closures and delayed start days caused by biodiesel fuel gelling and coagulation during winter months. Officials responsible for managing the district’s bus fleet sent along a photograph as a visual demonstration of biodiesel’s failure in subzero temperatures during the winter of 2013-14.

Along with that photograph, those officials sent us an e-mail describing the difficulties they face when temperatures drop below zero.

Officials can’t always decide if school is going to be canceled or start-delayed because of inclement weather, until after the buses have been successfully started and begin their routes. Even then, the biodiesel fuel may gel or coagulate, causing the buses to stop in mid-route.

Local news outlets may have already announced that school was scheduled to be in session before it is determined that the buses will not start. Students are at the bus stops and parents are on their way to work, with the understanding that there would be school that day.

In the meantime, the biodiesel fuel has gelled, the filters have solidified and the buses have stopped running. Students are left stranded on the buses or standing outside in freezing temperatures, not knowing if their buses are late or not coming at all. Since their parents have already left for work, they are left home alone and parents may have to scramble to make last-minute daycare arrangements.

All of this needlessly jeopardizes children’s safety, as well as their instruction time and their parents’ livelihoods.

The conflict of these real-life examples with the substance of testimony offered by opponents of these common sense measures is startling at best.

Written testimony submitted by the biofuels industry representative states that “investments in biodiesel production and distribution have been based on the current policy landscape, which includes a year-round market for the product.” It is unfortunate that anyone would hope to put corporate profits above the safety of our children.

It was also said that passing SBs 163 and 164 would tell the investment community that “Oregon state government is not serious about developing a homegrown advanced biofuels industry.” This is tantamount to choosing environmental policy over school safety.

Another outrageous claim is that “advanced biofuels growth and development is based on the level of confidence investors have in government policies.” What about consumer confidence in the actual biodiesel product itself?

Written testimony submitted by the Oregon Environmental Council states that “these bills are unnecessary and undermine in-state and regional production and use of safety and reliable renewable fuels.” Their lobbyist testified in committee that these bills “would chip away at the recently passed clean fuels program that we worked very hard to pass, and that sets us up for reducing climate pollution.”

This testimony references the controversial Low Carbon Fuel Standards program that was directly and specifically mentioned in the sweeping federal grand jury subpoena that was issued against disgraced former governor John Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, as part of the ongoing investigation into influence peddling, crony capitalism and other very serious allegations.

Throughout my ten years in the Oregon Senate, I have seen countless examples of well-intended policies developed by people in urban areas that cause great harm to those of us in rural areas. This debate over biodiesel is simply the latest in a long line of these instances. Failure to pass these bills will do nothing more than deepen the rift between those in the urban and rural parts of the state.

Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls

[UPDATE 5/5/2015] Bend Bulletin Editorial: Give Eastern Oregon schools biodiesel exemption

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Green Energy, OR 78th Legislative Session, Oregon Senate | 31 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jack Lord God

    I will never understand why we say legislation involves compromise, but that compromise seems to always bee someone comes demanding a whole loaf and settles for half a loaf without ever giving anything up.

    Look, the writing on the wall is clear here. Democrats are in control and seeking to funnel money to cronies in the green energy business, well known kings of the corporate welfare system.

    I would propose this compromise. Oregonians who like to subsidize this thing will be offered a chance to do so, mandate every gas station must carry bio fuels so everyone can subsidize these fat cats should they choose.

    What would the green welfare queens give up? Simple. Elimination of the ethanol requirement. If you want to buy gas without ethanol, that is also to be available at every gas station, and in regular blends, not just premium.

    This compromise would be a real one, as both sides are giving something up, not just one. In addition, Oregonians would now be free to avoid ethanol, something nobody reasonable argues does a damn thing to “save the environment”, and would get better gas mileage to boot!

    Who could be against that? If you want to buy bio diesel you can. If you want to get better mileage you can. Win win.

    • DavidAppell

      Yes, Democrats are in control. That’s called democracy. Would you rather give voters one vote per cow, or one vote per spider gag?

      • guess who

        It is with much regret I must remind you we live in a republic not a democracy!

        • guest

          Right on and Blanch Davidian Appell can join with clERIC BLAIR into fallowiing down into a well, twit they’ve not bottomed out jackass yet.

        • DavidAppell

          The distinction is not especially meaningful in a practical sense. Everyone knows that in the US “democracy” means “representative democracy.”

          • redbean

            Also known as two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s (or who’s) for dinner.

      • Jack Lord God

        Ladies and gentlemen, I give you David Appell, king of the non sequitur.

        • DavidAppell

          If you want elections to come out some other way, then start winning them.

      • MrBill

        The longer dems are in control the better those two alternatives look.

        • DavidAppell

          I think the opposite. I can’t think of much of anything Republicans have accomplished in the last 30 years. Can you?

  • Zinwhit

    Mr. Whitsett and his wife started a group called Save Our Rural Oregon, whose purpose was to stop a biomass electrical facility in the Langell Valley where Mr. And Mrs. Whitsett reside. In short, they oppose damaging projects like biomass/fuels in their own backyard while supporting it in somebody else’s backyards.

    Mr. Whitsett should not be calling the Portland kettle black, as his own “rural” backyard is also black. You can’t have it both ways, Mr. Whitsett, complaining about folks in Portland not wanting these facilities while you oppose them yourself.


    • Arele


  • Arele

    This is just awful. It is hard to read that school children are out freezing while waiting for a bus just because of a biofuel requirement that doesn’t make sense for rural Oregon – especially with these kind of consequences.

    The cold hearts of these Portland legislators and the biofuels industry is hard to take in – that they could hear explicit testimony from rural Oregonians about the real cost to them, their school districts and their families and still push their agenda without batting an eye is stunning.

  • guest

    Portland creeps, Oregonians in tow, so weep.
    To keep Oregon keen: Vote out all DEM incumbents wringing US dry and moisten native pioneering presence by derailing all DEM nonsenses into a roundabout house redirecting the unwholesome DNC lemmings over a finale cliff they cannot to this daze, twits, imagine being de-serving of, absolutely .

  • thevillageidiot

    “A representative from the National Biodiesel Board provided written testimony against the bills, and also spoke out in opposition to them during the public hearing. In the written testimony, the representative stated that “we are not
    aware of any cold weather operability issues that have occurred since
    biodiesel’s ASTM specification was optimized for cold weather
    performance in 2011.” It was also claimed that “the difference in cold
    flow between a 5% biodiesel blend and 100% petroleum are now less than
    half of one degree Fahrenheit.” of course the “industry” will oppose the reduction of the price fixing. This is today’s mercantilism. This is not the only industry. All of them have price fixes that are very profitable for them while keeping out the competition. Biodiesel cannot compete in price and service. the consumers will buy the product that works at the lowest price. Biodiesel is not it. it requires government regulation to force the use of a substandard product.
    ethanol in gasoline is the same thing. Monsanto should go all in on the ethanol market for gasoline in the name of the name of the saving environment. In another side note farmers are starting to hear the consumers message about no GMOs. corn farmers in Iowa are increasing the acreage of non-GMO corn. it commands a higher price and consumers are demanding it. This is a real function of a free market.

  • thevillageidiot

    SOOOOOO. Mr Whitsett why not repeal the old regulatins instead of trying to “fix” them in the name of the bio fuels industry. Why not let the biofuels compete on their own merit and the demands of the consumer?
    in “modifying” the current regulation you continue to promote government intervention and price fixing. Are you a conservative or another form of democrat?

    • DavidAppell

      Until consumers pay the cost of their negative externalities, fuel use needs to be regulated to avoid harm to others.

      • Makah Whalestrome.

        Druid Appell, suggest you set sail your hoody assets further out and go fish where killer clERIC Blair finds his nonsense as economically appetizing. Carp-eesh?

        • DavidAppell

          So are you in favor of making everyone pay the cost of the pollution generated by utilities and corporations? Or do you respect property rights?

          • redbean

            Who should pay for the externalities of using alternative fuels, which require more energy in their production than the final product provides in usable energy?

            As far as property rights are concerned, they’ve been losing out to polluters since the mid 19th century, due to court decisions that could be classified as thoroughly “progressive” in nature. For more on this topic, see Murray Rothbard: https://mises.org/library/law-property-rights-and-air-pollution#12

            Here’s a link to a shorter treatment by Rothbard of the necessity to protect property rights in order to maximize environmental protection.


            The examples are not the most current but the principles in Rothbard’s conclusion still hold:
            “Thus, when we peel away the confusions and the unsound philosophy of the modern ecologists, we find an important bedrock case against the existing system; but the case turns out to be not against capitalism, private property, growth, or technology per se. It is a case against the failure of government to allow and to defend the rights of private property against invasion. If property rights were to be defended fully, against private and governmental invasion alike, we would find here, as in other areas of our economy and society, that private enterprise and modern technology would come to mankind not as a curse but as its salvation.”

          • DavidAppell

            Good question — Who should pay for the externalities of using alternative fuels, which require more energy in their production than the final product provides in usable energy?

          • DavidAppell

            “As far as property rights are concerned, they’ve been losing out to polluters since the mid 19th century, due to court decisions that could be classified as thoroughly “progressive” in nature.”

            So you think defending property rights is a progressive approach?

            Thanks — I agree completely.

          • redbean

            My comment said the opposite: 1) mid 19th century court decisions harmed property rights; and 2) these decisions could be classified as progressive. You’ll need to read Rothbard to understand the technical legal nature of those decisions. FYI, this article is not easy reading for folks (like me) without a legal background, but well worth the effort if you’re interested in why things are they way they are.

            Your support of property rights is duly noted and a terrific point of common ground on which to search for mutually agreeable solutions.

          • DavidAppell

            The case for economic reparations depends on property rights, including for the Commons. No one has the right to pollute them for their own private benefit. This is coming to an end, and will bring a huge amount of economic dislocations. Which is just — it’s about making things right.

          • redbean

            The Commons is endangered precisely because when “everyone” owns it, in reality no one owns it. The government artificially creates the legal construct of “public property” and then “manages” it through force and political corruption, resulting in social disharmony and neglect. Common ownership of resources becomes “just” only when the ownership rights of each member of the group are true rights and well defined. People will manage their own resource prudently to maximize its value, not just in the short term but in the future as well. The owner who ignores the future is not maximizing the resource’s value. When you have government ownership – , i.e. everyone, but no one, as owners – then the incentive flips to using it all up now. No one has any incentive to maintain the value into the future. Your tax dollars at work.

          • DavidAppell

            Narrow minded. The Commons has value just as it is. It provides economic services just as it is. It need not have development to have “value.”

          • redbean

            I didn’t say it needed development or to provide economic services to have value. Value is subjective.

          • .

            Makah tribe know beast and how to poke holes in your caucus.

  • Granola girl

    How about the school district do the repairs, document it and bill the Bio-diesel company every time they need to make a repair? That would draw attention to the issue, as well as re-capture lost funds for the district.

  • Moe

    If these rural babies can’t take the heat they can always move to the city.

    • Fermem Oski

      Moe Sloe Gin, aka “Incoherent Blathers.”

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