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Oregon would drop remaining limits on self-service fueling, leaving drivers with choice

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By JAEL CALLOWAY/Oregon Capital Chronicle—Oregonians throughout the state would have the option to pump their own gas under provisions of House Bill 4151.

The bill, introduced in the 2022 Oregon Legislature, isn’t expected to affect the price of gas and is meant to address labor shortages, with self-service allowing stations to open earlier and close later.

Chief sponsors are state Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, and state Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene.

Among the bill’s sponsors is state Rep. Rick Lewis, R-Silverton, who sees the blanket of support among legislators as a glance towards a unified future.

“I think it will have bipartisan support,” Lewis said. “I think it’s past time we do something like this.”

Oregon is one of two states in the country generally prohibiting the self-service option – New Jersey being the second. The restriction, passed in 1951, was enacted because of concerns of civilians handling flammable liquids and possible spills.

However, self-service fueling has been available since 2015 without problems in counties where the population is under 40,000.

Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, represents District 30, which covers roughly 40 per cent of the state, including several low-population counties. Since the 2015 legislation, Findley said he heard no concerns.

“It’s been a good thing. As service stations close, there’s still gas available after hours,” he said. “There are still a lot of stations that provide attendants to pump gas for people, and I’ve never noticed or heard of any issues with that.”

Haseeb Shojai of Redmond is the owner of several gas stations. He owns one in Crook County and two in Jefferson County where self-service is available and one in Deschutes County, where it’s not.

Shojai’s Deschutes County station has often been the only one open while stations around him have closed due to a shortage of attendants. He’s experienced customer frustrations as lines get backed up and patience wears thin.

“Changes should be welcome. It’s not a bad change,” Shojai said. “People can choose to either go to a checkout with a cashier or a self-checkout. I don’t think the gas station is any different than a grocery store.”

In the past two years, Oregonians in denser-population counties have seen temporary lifts on the ban. In late March 2020, the state fire marshal enacted a temporary rule allowing self-service for all Oregon gas stations in an attempt to slow exposure to the coronavirus. This rule was effective through late May 2020.

It wasn’t until an extreme heat wave hit in late June 2021 that the state announced another short-term lift. During those periods when self-service was allowed, the fire marshal’s office received no complaints, according to Alison Green of the fire marshal’s office.

Gabriel Zirkle is president of Oregon Fuels Association, which represents more than 500 independent gas stations. Zirkle expressed his support for the bill, feeling it would be a win for all Oregonians by providing choice.

“I would encourage people to look at their neighbors and say, ‘am I doing something to assist them to make their life easier?’” said Zirkle. “You get served no matter what this bill does. But you give somebody the option to serve themselves if this moves forward.”

This story was developed as part of the Catalyst Journalism Project at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Catalyst brings together investigative reporting and solutions journalism to spark action and response to Oregon’s most perplexing issues. To learn more visit https://catalystjournalism.uoregon.edu or follow the project on Twitter @UO_catalyst.

 

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