Oregon May Soon Let People Pump Their Own Gas

Oregon’s longstanding status as one of just two states that restrict self-service gas could soon come to an end.

Last week the State Legislature approved a bill that would let gas stations statewide offer a self-service option, while requiring full-service on at least half their pumps. If Gov. Tina Kotek signs the bill into law, New Jersey would be the only state where people aren’t allowed to pump their own gas.

Ms. Kotek, a Democrat, has 30 days from the end of Oregon’s legislative session, which concluded on Sunday, to sign the bill. She has not indicated whether she plans to do so.

The self-serve gas bans in both states date back more than 70 years; New Jersey adopted its law in 1949, and Oregon imposed a similar ban in 1951. Lawmakers at the time, concerned that members of the public could not be trusted to safely pump their own gas, moved to restrict the dispensing of flammable liquids to trained attendants who could be counted on to follow safety protocols.

But unlike in New Jersey, where legislative efforts to allow self-service have flopped, Oregon has in recent years dialed back its full-service requirements in parts of the state. Laws passed in 2015 and 2017 allow gas stations in Oregon counties with fewer than 40,000 residents to let customers pump their own gas with certain restrictions, The Oregonian reported.

At times in recent years, Oregon has temporarily lifted its self-service restrictions on an emergency basis during heat waves and wildfires, and in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This bill would dramatically simplify this regulatory patchwork,” Shelly Boshart Davis, a Republican state representative who co-sponsored the measure, told fellow lawmakers at a legislative session in February.

Supporters of the bill said it would preserve the jobs of pump attendants by requiring gas stations to designate at least one person to provide full-service to customers who want it. Ms. Boshart Davis said the bill would also help station owners who have had trouble filling attendant jobs.

“You will hear from local small business owners about how they can’t even find workers for those positions right now,” Ms. Boshart Davis said, adding: “We have all seen it or experienced it. Long lines at the gas station because pumps are roped off.”

Polling shows that Oregon residents are generally receptive to the idea of pumping their own gas. In 2021, 63 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a polling group, said they supported a policy change that would allow self-serve gas.

The bill had broad bipartisan support in the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. The State Senate approved it last week by a vote of 16 to 9. The State House voted 47 to 10 to approve it in March.

State Representative Tawna Sanchez, a Democrat who voted against the bill, cited the safety concerns that the self-service ban was originally designed to address.

“We have young people in our world that have no idea what to do with a rotary telephone, if they had to have one,” Ms. Sanchez said in an interview. “They can’t read a map. I think the potential for the type of thing that could go wrong is there.”

“I’m afraid we’re going to have young people who have not a clue how to pump gas,” she added.

There are few signs that New Jersey, where efforts to allow people to pump their own gas have faced strong opposition, will be following Oregon’s lead anytime soon.

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll last year found that 73 percent of New Jersey residents who were surveyed said they preferred having someone else pump their gas. In March 2022, the Democratic president of the State Senate, whose backing would be crucial to any change in the law, declared the idea of allowing self-service in the state to be a political nonstarter.

For many New Jerseyans, the commitment to full-service gas has become a part of the state’s unique identity, with T-shirts and bumper stickers proudly proclaiming: “Jersey Girls Don’t Pump Gas.”

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