Portland will phase out the sale of petroleum diesel by 2030, in its first major step to reduce carbon emissions by 50% under the city’s recently adopted climate emergency plan.
The unanimous decision by the Portland City Council on Wednesday takes aim at medium and heavy trucks, the city’s fourth largest source of carbon emissions, not by banning them but by shifting their fuel. Starting in 2024, petroleum diesel available for sale in Portland will be blended with renewable fuels at increasingly higher increments, until 99% of it is phased out. Keeping 1% maintains federal tax credits for blenders and wholesalers.
In addition to reducing emissions, the phase-out will reduce diesel particulate matter, also known as black carbon or “soot,” which can cause asthma attacks, respiratory disease and cancer and is especially harmful to children.
The city’s effort — the first in the nation — includes some concessions to the trucking and fuel industries, whose representatives said they’re worried about adequate supply, especially given that Portland will restrict the use of certain alternative fuels made from feedstock with higher environmental impacts. In response to industry, the city extended the phase-out deadline to 2030 from 2026.
City leaders, including Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability that prepared the ordinance, heralded the phase-out, saying it would help Portland reclaim its role as a climate leader. It also will reduce pollution in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that tend to be located in or near freeways and other polluting infrastructure where diesel particulate matter is at high concentrations.
“This policy is what the clean energy transition looks like,” Rubio said. “It will make Portland cleaner, healthier and more resilient, less dependent on fossil fuels.”
During the phase-out period, fuel suppliers and distributors can use any mix of traditional fuel and biofuels – including biodiesel and renewable diesel. A 15% blend will be required by 2024, 50% by 2026 and 99% by 2030.
Trucking industry and fuel representatives opposed the ordinance over concerns about limited supplies of renewable fuels and what is arguably the most innovative part of Portland’s ordinance — the requirement that biofuels used in the blends have a carbon intensity standard of 40 or below, such as those made from used cooking oil from restaurants and animal fat. Biofuels above 40 tend to come from virgin agricultural products such as soybeans and displace food production or cause deforestation.
Mark Fitz, president of Portland-based Star Oilco, said his company sells biodiesel, renewable diesel, and ethanol in addition to traditional diesel – but goes through periods when biofuels aren’t available.
“You’re competing against the world for a product that’s like water in the desert,” Fitz said.
Janna Jarvis, president of the Oregon Trucking Association, echoed the worry. “While the product is highly desirable, it’s simply not available,” Jarvis said.
While renewable diesel plants are in the permitting process, that doesn’t necessarily mean more will be available in Oregon — because California, Washington state, and British Columbia are also vying for the biofuels, said Holli Johnson with the Western States Petroleum Association.
“As projects come online, so does demand for these products, constraining an already limited supply,” Johnson said.
And allowing only lower carbon biofuels into the Portland market could make it even harder to get adequate supply, said Greg Peden, a lobbyist with the Oregon Fuels Association.
City staff countered that there’s ample supply of biodiesel and evidence of explosive growth nationally in future renewable diesel production. “We’re confident the market will adjust to this new policy,” said Andria Jacob, climate policy and programs manager at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.
Portland has been a pioneer of efforts to phase out diesel. In 2006, it became the first city in the U.S. to adopt a renewable fuel standard, which required Portland fuel retailers to sell a minimum blend of 5% biodiesel and a 10% blend of ethanol.
A year later, Oregon adopted its own renewable fuel standard. The 2% biodiesel blending requirement went into effect statewide in 2009, and the state increased the requirement in 2011 to a 5% biodiesel blend, matching Portland’s standard.
Portland retailers were exceeding the city’s 5% minimum biofuel requirement as of 2020 when diesel sold at retail and wholesale locations was at an 11% biofuel blend citywide, said Jacob.
A renewable fuel standard has also been adopted by a dozen states around the country and by the federal government – but Portland’s updated standard far exceeds the federal and state standards.
Portland officials said its 2006 ordinance helped accelerate the development of the biodiesel and ethanol industries in Oregon and expanded access to these fuels at retail stations and wholesalers. Since then, advances in technology and markets have led to more availability of biofuels — including renewable diesel, which wasn’t available when Portland first adopted its standard.
Portland officials say they’re still fully committed to electrification and weaning off engines that rely on fossil fuels – but full electrification won’t arrive for another decade or two, they said, and phasing out petroleum diesel will improve air quality and cut emissions, especially from heavy duty vehicles, in the interim.
– Gosia Wozniacka; firstname.lastname@example.org; @gosiawozniacka
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Read More:Portland is first in nation to phase out petroleum diesel, replace with biofuels