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Oregon bill to allow self-serve at gas stations advances

A filling station attendant pumps gas in Portland, Ore., in 2012. A new law took effect this week allowing motorists in some rural counties in Oregon to pump their own gas.
Rick Bowmer
A filling station attendant pumps gas in Portland, Ore., in 2012. A new law took effect this week allowing motorists in some rural counties in Oregon to pump their own gas.

A bill that would allow Oregonians to pump their own gas anywhere in the state edged closer to passage this week with its second public hearing in the Legislature.

The Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment held a public hearing for House Bill 2426 on Tuesday, and mainly drew support – from lawmakers, gas station owners, industry lobbyists and individuals. The bill comes more than 70 years after restrictions were first enacted.

The proposal would allow all gas stations statewide to offer self-serve gas at all hours while requiring an attendant for anyone who might want to be served, including elderly people and those with disabilities. No more than half of a station’s pumps could be self-serve, prices at all pumps would have to be the same and signs would have to note the service level of pumps.

“One thing we want to do is reduce confusion,” said Mike Freeze with the Oregon Fuels Association.

The bill is backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers – Republican Rep. Shelly Boshart-Davis of Albany and House Democratic Leader Julie Fahey of Eugene are chief sponsors, along with Republican Sen. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles and Democratic Sen. Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro.

It passed the House on March 20, on a 47-10 vote, with bipartisan support and opposition.

Opponents have voiced concerns about the bill having an adverse impact on vulnerable Oregonians who need assistance at the pump, while supporters said it would streamline Oregon’s patchwork of regulations that allow self-serve pumps in eastern Oregon at all times but limit them to nighttime service at the coast.

Sollman, chair of the energy committee, said the proposal also would give customers and owners a choice and help struggling stations that have had difficulty hiring attendants.

“We know that workforce shortages have caused issues for businesses and consumers alike, causing significant constraints and delays at fueling stations,” Sollman testified. “Some gas stations have had to close pumps down or even close for the day because of worker shortages. This bill will allow businesses to remain open and give Oregonians the opportunity of choice to pump their own gas, a concept that two-thirds of Oregonians support.”

A 2021 survey from DHM Research and the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found that almost two-thirds of Oregonians supported changing the law to allow customers to pump their own gas.

Self-service gas is now offered across the country, with restrictions only in New Jersey and Oregon. The prohibition was enacted in 1951 in Oregon over safety and job concerns. A bill in 2015 allowed self serve in sparsely populated counties between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., with the time restrictions lifted for eastern Oregon stations in 2017. The nighttime rule remains for coastal stations.

During the pandemic, as workforce shortages spiked, Oregon’s fire marshal lifted the ban on self service several times during emergencies, including wildfires and heat waves.

‘Competitive business’

Louis Hernandez, who owns gas stations in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, told the committee he had 27 employees before the pandemic and now has 14.

“At one of my stations, I have an employee who has been homeless for three years and I gave him a place to stay only because I knew that at least for the time that he was there, that that station was going to be open,” Hernandez testified.

He said he pays $18 an hour and is competing with fast food companies that pay every other day.

“It’s a competitive business especially in these counties where there are stations everywhere,” Hernandez said. “If someone doesn’t show up and I’m available, I’m going to go out there and do it.”

Shawn Miller of the Northwest Grocery Association said the bill would help retailers who are also struggling to hire staff and want to sell gas. He said association members have thousands of job openings statewide that have forced them to curtail gas service.

“Almost half of our stations are closed, Miller said, and we want to open them up.”

Lawmakers also heard from an Oregon resident – Christian Steinbrecher.

“I’m not a lobbyist, and I don’t own a gas station. It’s time for me to join the rest of the country to allow self-service gas,” Steinbrecher said, noting he’s almost 70.

“Waiting in line for attendants is a waste of time for me,” Steinbrecher said. “At this age, time is the one thing that you have less of.”

In written testimony, Barry O’Mahony of Bend said it takes 30 seconds more for an attendant to pump gas and take payment, leading to a “yearly waste of 300,000 hours that Oregonians could be using to do something different.”

But Matthew Koppenhaver, a gas station attendant in Baker City, said the bill would harm employment opportunities for teens.

“Hiring 16- and 17-year-olds as fuel attendants provides young individuals the opportunity to learn work habits as they become adults,” Koppenhaver said in written testimony. He also cited safety concerns, saying attendants need to be on hand in the case of a fall or to prevent customers from smoking or vaping at the pump or leaving their vehicle unattended while filling up as they use the restroom or shop in the convenience store.

“I realize the current employment climate is creating a hardship for many retailers,” he said in written testimony, “but HB 2426-A is not the solution we need.”

The bill would have minimal fiscal impact, according to a legislative analysis. It awaits a vote in the Senate energy committee and if it passes would go to the Senate floor, potentially its last step before hitting Gov. Tina Kotek’s desk.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.