Clean Fuels Program cuts pollution, invests in health

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality should expand the program’s carbon intensity reduction targets and maximize the potential of this program to invest in a healthier, more resilient future

September 22, 2022 5:30 am

State, local and tribal governments have until spring 2024 to apply for billions available under a federal program to cut pollution. (

That climate change is a public health crisis, as well as an environmental crisis, should come as no surprise. 

Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division now recognizes wildfire smoke as a threat to workers, and extreme heat killed over 100 people in Oregon during last year’s heat dome. The heatwave in July was one of the longest on record leading to heat advisories across the state, Gov. Kate Brown declaring a state of emergency in 25 counties and Multnomah County investigating three possible heat-related deaths. 

The combination of heat, lack of wind and pollution lead to air quality advisories along Interstate 5 and Interstate 84 across the state. At the federal level, the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which ignored precedent, gutted the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect the public from harmful air pollution. 

With this in mind, it’s more important than ever that we act at the state level to protect public health from the impending disaster of climate change. We can start now by strengthening and expanding one of our most effective tools at reducing our dependence on expensive, volatile fossil fuels and creating healthier communities: the Clean Fuels Program which uses financial incentives to encourage suppliers to sell lower-carbon transportation fuels. In the six years the Clean Fuels Program has been active, it has cut 6 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution and replaced 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline with cleaner fuels without increasing prices at the pump. 

This is an important climate win. It’s also an important public health win. In addition to generating climate pollution, burning fossil fuels generates other air toxics, like particulate matter – or soot – and nitrogen oxides.

All Oregonians pay for the damage caused by burning fossil fuels with their health and their pocketbook, but people living on low incomes and communities of color pay the most because they tend to have more exposure and fewer resources to address the subsequent healthcare challenges.

According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, soot from diesel engine exhaust is responsible each year for an estimated 176 premature deaths, 25,810 lost work days and $3.5 billion in annual health care costs from exposure.

The beauty of the Clean Fuels Program is that it not only cuts pollution, but it also invests in healthier solutions.

Several Oregon school districts have bought their first electric buses with program proceeds, giving kids a healthier, quieter ride. Businesses from private trucking fleets to TriMet are using exclusively renewable diesel, made possible by the Clean Fuels Program. Nonprofits like Meals on Wheels and the Native American Youth and Family Center have been granted electric vehicles, so they can spend more on delivering their services and less on fuel and maintenance.

Folks living on low incomes in Corvallis have picked up grants for electric bikes. Electric vehicle charging stations have popped up across the state from Pendleton to Klamath Falls to Forest Grove, with Clean Fuels investment dollars. As if that weren’t impressive enough, the very same program also cuts harmful local air pollution, leading to healthier neighborhoods and millions of dollars saved on healthcare each year.

The Clean Fuels Program is win-win for climate change and public health. This fall the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality should expand the program’s carbon intensity reduction targets and maximize the potential of this program to invest in a healthier, more resilient future.

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Jessica Nischik-Long
Jessica Nischik-Long

Jessica Nischik-Long is the Executive Director of the Oregon Public Health Association, a nonprofit group of public health professionals, students, educators, medical, nursing and dental professionals, researchers, professors, community leaders and residents who advocate for policies that protect public health and health equity.