By Nick Engelfried of Forest Grove, Oregon. Nick is a senior at Pacific University and helped organize the Washington County Sustainability Summit at the University. Previously, he contributed "Learning from the Kingston disaster; shut down Oregon's Boardman coal plant".
In the only metro-area County whose Board of Commissioners declined to participate in the Sierra Club’s “Cool Counties Climate Stabilization Initiative” last summer, major environmental leadership comes usually from below the level of the Board. This was readily apparent over the weekend of February 7th-8th during the citizen-led WA County Sustainability Summit at Pacific University, which brought together some of the most important environmental initiatives going forward in the local area.
Over 100 County residents registered for the two-day Summit, which was organized largely by Pacific students who invited not only locally elected officials, but also plain old-fashioned community organizers to share their views on how our community might transition to a world that can no longer afford to run on fossil fuels.
Ideas generated at the Summit: increase public transportation options (oh, for a lightrail into Forest Grove), toughen energy efficiency standards for new buildings, and preserve Washington County farmland as a vital source of locally grown foods for our area. Peter Lunsford of Washington County Peak Oil pointed to local governments in places as diverse as Singapore and Germany which are finding creative ways to reduce energy consumption and dependence on fossil fuels. I, for one, left with the feeling that though we have a long, long, way to go in Washington County, solutions to this community’s energy and environmental problems do exist and are within reach.
Still, perhaps the most important conclusion at the Summit was a consensus that this area’s multi-faceted sustainability movement, currently harboring so much potential, could be severely weakened by one giant fossil fuel project: Liquefied Natural Gas, commonly known as LNG. Washington County’s two greatest assets in the struggle to go green are its open farmland and its proximity to the clean energy economy in Oregon. LNG threatens both of these green blessings. Columbia Riverkeeper’s Olivia Schmidt warned at the Summit that a market suddenly flooded with an imported fossil fuel like LNG has the potential to shut down renewable energy projects across the state.
Meanwhile, the Palomar LNG Pipeline would cut through miles of prime Washington County farmland, permanently limiting its use. LNG is not just bad for the landowners whose livelihoods are jeopardized by Palomar: it represents a major threat to sustainability in Washington County.
Here’s to hoping that Washington County rises to take its place beside our true environmental leaders at the local government level. Doing so will mean defeating the Palomar Pipeline, instituting a plethora of clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives, and probably voting out a few reactionary politicians come election-time. But the joining-together of community members this month signified to me that citizens are ready to do what it takes. The time has come to set Washington County on its path toward a green and glorious future.