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Children of the Spurned Nozzle

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The Great State of Oregon is not at DEFCON ONE. Nor are Beaver State residents gnashing their teeth — or gnawing down their neighbors’ small backyard trees — over a new law that went into effect last week.

Nonetheless, numerous news outfits have proclaimed:

  1. “People in Oregon are freaking out about the thought of pumping their own gas under a new law.”
  2.  “A brand new law went into effect . . . for the Beaver State. And it’s sending shock waves across all 98,000-plus square miles and all 4 million residents as we speak.”
  3. “Some Oregonians may have to pump their own gas and people are losing their minds”

Don’t believe everything you read. And, for goodness sake, hang onto your mind.

For starters, Oregon’s new law doesn’t actually require anyone to do anything new. It is the old law, which forced all gas stations throughout the state to provide full service in dispensing gasoline into vehicles. Put down that pump, pilgrim—er, customer.

Moreover — and unfortunately — the new law only allows “retailers in counties with a population of less than 40,000 . . . to have self-service gas pumps.” Most Oregonians, living in cities and suburbs, will continue to be “protected” from the freedom to fill up their own tank . . . and pay less.

So, where did this mockumentary story — “Internet mocks Oregon over new self-service gas law” — come from?

Seems it was triggered by a Facebook post on the page of KTVL CBS 10 News in Medford, Oregon. The TV station took the “freedom to pump” concept an absolutely terrifying step further, asking, “Do you think Oregon should allow self-serve gas stations statewide?”

As George Takei likes to say: oh, my.

The social media post went viral, not surprisingly, because of priceless responses such as this: “I’ve lived in this state all my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas. I had to do it once in California while visiting my brother and almost died doing it. This [is] a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas. I can’t even.”

Across America, after reading such comments, we can’t even . . . either.

Oregon is one of only two states — New Jersey, the other — where gas stations are legally banned from permitting customers to put gas in their own cars. Though New Jersey Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon admitted to the New York Times that he violates the law and grabs the pump when in a hurry. “Someone can come to my door and cuff me if they want.”

The assemblyman has introduced legislation to allow self-service and thinks the current prohibition is indefensible: “The only thing you could argue is that New Jerseyans are more flammable than people in the other 49 states.”

It is 48 states, of course; Assemblyman O’Scanlon forgot about Oregon. But his point is well taken, nonetheless. Folks in the other 48 states have managed, as one Facebooker calmly explained, “to pump gas without spilling the whole tank and triggering a Star Wars-style explosion.”

Yet, in Oregon, politically, the full-service-gas-dispensing-by-law policy has found popular support both in the legislature and on the ballot. Indeed, wealthier people may enjoy the mandated service, which has grown rare to nonexistent in other parts of the country where consumers can choose to pay for it or not. No matter how popular, however, by what right does government deny gas station owners and their customers basic economic freedom?

Not to mention that the law functions as a regressive tax on the working poor, who are required to pay more of their scare dollars and cents to get to and from work and to the market and to drop the kids at school.

Still, if Oregonians so revere this regulatory regime, protecting them from the “smell” and the indignity of direct proximity to automotive re-fueling, why did the legislature change the law even partially?

Well, for economic reasons. Which are also safety reasons. As one might expect, gas stations across rural Oregon were closing at night, because of the labor costs of staying open. Many motorists have been more than merely inconvenienced — being stranded at night in rural Oregon is a high price to pay for not having ever to hold a cold fueling nozzle.

Freer markets offer greater protection for real people . . . those not too perplexed by the prospect of pumping their own petrol.

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