Oregonians, get pumped. If you’re so inclined.
After more than seven decades of banning drivers from pumping their own gas, Oregon lawmakers on Wednesday voted to boldly enter the self-service era — where every state but New Jersey has been waiting.
If signed by Gov. Tina Kotek, House Bill 2426 will enable retail gas stations to designate up to half of their pumps as self-serve.
Drivers won’t have to leave the comfort of their cars, though. Gas stations in Oregon’s most populous counties will still be required to employ an attendant and offer full-service fueling with no difference in price.
“Oregonians support choice,” said state Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro. “This is a smart policy that makes sense and allows people the freedom of choice at the pump.”
Sollman is correct that polling suggests a majority of Oregonians would like the option of filling their own tanks, but that wasn’t persuasive to many in Sollman’s party. HB 2426 passed the Senate with a bare majority of votes, when nine of the chamber’s 17 Democrats opposed it.
Only Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, rose to explain his reasons.
Frederick said he’s concerned that the measure would result in a loss of jobs, though gas stations complain about not being able to find willing workers in a tight labor market. A gas station near his home already began “making people pump their own gas” when HB 2426 was proposed this session, he said.
The senator also said he’s concerned the law change won’t lead to consequences if gas stations decide not to offer attendants at all.
“Folks have to take the time to call the fire marshal to complain that a station is not complying with the law, and then the fire marshal has to take the time to actually investigate,” he said. “That sort of approach doesn’t help the person who’s being affected in the moment.”
Others welcomed the change. Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said he’s long been allowed to pump his own fuel because he belongs to a commercial fueling cooperative.
“I have yet to light myself on fire. I have yet to cause any problems whatsoever as it relates to self-serve gas,” Knopp said. “I know that Oregonians are ready.”
Oregon has blocked drivers from fueling up since 1951, and state law still lists a range of hazards that a hapless motorist might be exposed to by the practice, including crime, slippery pavement, hazardous fumes and flammable liquid.
But the state has repeatedly chipped away at its full-service requirements, allowing motorcyclists and drivers in rural areas to pump their own gas. HB 2426 would do little to change rules allowing self-service fueling in rural Oregon counties that have been in place since 2018. Twenty of the state’s 36 counties are designated as rural for those purposes under the proposal. Broader efforts to allow self-service fueling have been beaten back repeatedly.
Last year, a proposal very similar to HB 2426 wound up getting mired in the state’s budget-writing committee, after the Office of the State Fire Marshal raised concerns more self-service fueling would increase complaints and investigations, and require that agency to spend more than $1 million for additional staff.
The office did not raise the same concerns this year, and HB 2426 is now expected to have a minimal fiscal impact. The fire marshal’s office told OPB in March that the change came because the bill does not require the office to enforce the new regulations until March 2024, “which means the impact on our agency is reduced.”
Despite the delayed enforcement, HB 2426 will take effect immediately if signed by Kotek. The governor’s office declined to comment Wednesday on whether she would approve the bill.
Detractors like Frederick worry that, if she does, Oregon is on a slippery slope.
“I have some real concerns,” he said, “that we are progressively getting closer and closer to eliminating Oregon’s full service law entirely.”