Charlie Hales: Leadership on the Environment

By Stephen Kafoury of Portland, Oregon. Stephen is an environmental activist and former Oregon state legislator and Portland School Board member.

Happy Earth Day! As we move towards the election for the next mayor of Portland, I’ve been asked for my reasons as an environmentalist for supporting Charlie Hales. First, a disclaimer: Although I am the longtime chair of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, I am speaking as an individual, and am not representing the views of the organization. I have recused myself from any discussions regarding the OLCV endorsement in the mayor’s race.

Charlie has taken some very specific stands on environmental issues that the new mayor will have to face. He has pledged to maintain the conservation overlays protecting natural areas essential to the green infrastructure of this community. These include stream set-asides, forest protections, preservation of wetlands and natural areas – all of which help protect the temperature of our rivers and streams at a level that supports native fish and native habitat.

Charlie is committed to a Willamette River cleanup that will leave the river healthy for people, fish, and wildlife. That means ensuring contaminant exposure risks at the Superfund site are reduced to safer levels as soon as possible, and also that clean-up options do not preclude future restoration efforts.

While the city is limited by the Interstate Commerce Clause, Charlie understands that as mayor he can demand a detailed environmental impact statement on the transportation of coal through our region. The NEPA EIS process must be transparent in order to disclose implications of this idea. The notion of coal mined, transported across the nation, shipped to China and then likely returned to us in the form of acid rain and mercury seems to lack common sense. Charlie is concerned that the dust from open containers of coal will have an especially harmful impact on low income communities which lie close to rail tracks. Environmental justice is high on his priority list.

Another topic that Charlie has raised in his campaign is the full restoration of Forest Park. Our city’s well-used and well-loved gem is in serious danger due to invasive species and lack of management. Minor attention through slightly increased staff activity isn’t enough -- Forest Park is the largest green infrastructure asset our city has, and he wants to give it the attention it deserves. Charlie will focus our city’s priorities and budgeting to make the investment in removal of invasive species, reforestation and then ongoing management of our greatest park.

Charlie is best known for his leadership as a city commissioner in Portland’s streetcar and light rail development. He is justly proud to have been part of the planning and implementation of multi-modal transportation facilities that have taken more cars off the road, reduced the use of fossil fuel, cut down on greenhouse gases, and helped more people get around.

However, Charlie is not a person to rest on his laurels. His environmental vision extends to the challenges Portland faces in the future. Although his competitors in this race may share some of Charlie’s environmental values, none has been in a position to demonstrate the executive leadership to actually accomplish concrete projects that Charlie has. That’s why I am voting for him for mayor.

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