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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Lawmakers Consider Measure To Expand Self-Service Gas

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Signs like this are a rarity in Oregon. This station is operated by the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde.

Oregon lawmakers are considering a proposal that would open the door to allowing more people to pump their own gas. It's an expansion of a previous loosening of the state's ban on self-service gasoline.

Last year a new Oregon law took effect that allowed stations in rural counties to allow offer self-serve in the overnight hours. The argument was that stations in those areas can't afford to stay open all night, and drivers need the option to fill up before heading out on a remote stretch of highway.

A bill under consideration this year would allow those small town stations to offer self-serve during the daytime hours, too.

"There are significant differences between small population areas and large population areas, especially when it comes to an issue of fuel availability,” said Paul Romain, a lobbyist for fuel distributors and retailers.

Romain testified before the House Transportation Committee. The measure would apply to gas stations in "low-population counties” -- defined in the bill as a county with a population of less than 40,000. That includes half of all Oregon counties, including most of the counties east of the Cascades.

No counties along Interstate 5 are small enough to qualify.

Some lawmakers on the panel questioned the wisdom of expanding the availability of self-service fueling in a state where many drivers are unfamiliar with how to operate a gas pump. Democratic Rep. Susan McClain said she remembers the first time she had to pump her own gas during an out-of-state trip.

"All of a sudden, some wind came up and took the hose right out of my hand," McClain said. "And so there was gas flipping all over the place."

But Republican Rep. Carl Wilson countered that self-serve gas has been relatively safe in the 48 states that offer it.

"Every couple of years I ride back to the Sturgis motorcycle rally [in South Dakota] where you have between a half-a-million and 650,000 motorcycle riders in various stages of sobriety and sanity, all filling up their tanks several times a day," Wilson said. "And there is never a problem. No blown-up gas stations.”

Oregon and New Jersey are the only states with a law that prevents most gas stations from offering self-service fueling.