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‘I don’t even know HOW’: Some Oregonians panic about new self-service gas law

A new law in Oregon allows residents in rural counties to pump their own gas. (Video: KOIN6 News)

A new law that took effect this week in Oregon will allow residents in rural counties to pump their own gas — a divergence from the state’s decades-long history of having attendants pump gas for drivers.

Under House Bill 2482, which took effect Monday, retailers in counties with a population of less than 40,000 are allowed to have self-service gas pumps. Drivers in 15 counties can now pump their own gas any time of day, while those in three other rural counties can do so after business hours, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

PUMP YOUR OWN GASStarting January 1st Oregonians can begin pumping their own gas in rural counties. MORE: you think Oregon should allow self-serve gas stations statewide?

Posted by KTVL CBS 10 News, Medford on Friday, December 29, 2017

The Internet machine roared, fueled by a local TV station’s now-viral Facebook post asking people to react to the new law. Some commenters were angry and perturbed by the possibility of having to pump their own gas in the cold, while those from other states scoffed.

“I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and I am 62, native Oregonian . . . I say NO THANKS! I don’t like to smell like gasoline!” one woman wrote on KTVL’s Facebook post.

“No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help. Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe. This is a very bad idea. Grrr,” another woman wrote.

“I’ve lived in this state all my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas . . . This [is] a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas.”

By the time the law took effect, Oregon had become a virtual laughingstock among social media users who seemed to have visualized an entire state filled with hapless drivers.

“FEAR NOT OREGON!!! I’ve decided to move to Oregon to open a school to teach people how to pump their gas. Short-term business you say?” a man wrote and then listed a list of menial tasks he wants to teach people do. His Facebook comment has been liked 61,000 times.

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“I’m in Wisconsin and with the wind chill it’s currently -17. You know what I did this morning?! Had to pump my own flipping gas!! It’s not that hard people!!” one woman wrote.

“It’s official. Oregon is full of mentally defective, full grown children, incapable of the most mundane adult tasks,” another man wrote.

Lost in the jokes and online chatter, however, is that the law does not impose wide-ranging changes, meaning many Oregonians who don’t want to fill their own tanks won’t have to. HB 2482 does not require all gas stations in the state to have self-service pumps at all hours of the day. It simply gives retailers in sparsely populated communities, or about half of the states’ counties, the option to do so — and some have said they will continue their business practices regardless of the law.

It will also not eliminate jobs because gas stations with convenience stores are still required to have attendants during business hours. Moreover, self-service pumps are not new in Oregon. In at least one rural county, co-op members are issued cards that allow them to pump their own gas any time of day.

Also lost in the hysteria is that the bill, which was passed in the state legislature with only one “no” vote and was signed into law in May, was favored by some stakeholders, including gas station owners.

Proponents of the bill argued that it’s impractical for businesses in rural counties to have staff available to fuel vehicles 24 hours a day, so drivers in need of fuel after business hours usually have to call state police for assistance. Police would then bring a small amount of fuel and ask the operator of the closest gas station to open.

Thomas Downs, who owns a small restaurant and gas station in Harney County in southeast Oregon, testified during a committee hearing last year that the bill would allow him to focus on other services his business provides. He said his is the only reliable source of fuel within 85 miles, meaning his staff sometimes gets swamped.

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“Our experience after almost 13 years is that out-of-state residents are very capable of dispensing [their] fuel and the majority of Oregonians delight in being able to if we are swamped,” Downs said.

Dan Jones, who operates a Chevron station in Malheur County in eastern Oregon, said the law would have no economic impact on his business and would allow him to promote from within.

Disability Rights Oregon, however, raised concerns that the law would have unintended consequences for people with disabilities in rural counties. The organization noted that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires self-serve gas stations to provide assistance to customers with disabilities.

Kale Williams, a columnist for the Oregonian, slammed the Internet and some publications for poking fun at Oregon and making the state “look like either a collection of feeble-handed troglodytes too dumb or lazy to do the deed themselves or an assemblage of elitists who turn their noses up at the plebeian pump.”

“The Internet’s content farms fired up their harvesting machines and cherry-picked some of the worst comments and laid into Oregon,” Williams wrote, adding later: “Could it be the rest of the country is mad they don’t have access to the fine-dining equivalent of gasoline?”

Oregon and New Jersey are the only states that require gas stations to have attendants.

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