Oregon’s Climate Report Card

By Angus Duncan of Portland, OR. Angus is the president at Bonneville Environmental Foundation and the chair of Oregon Global Warming Commission.

The Oregon Global Warming Commission is charged with tracking the state’s progress toward its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals and reporting every two years to the Legislature. Our 2013 Report looks distressingly like my sixth grade report card: lots of “C’s”, precious few “A’s” and one grade I wish I didn’t have to show my parents.

Oregon is bringing home about a C+ average when we should be doing nothing less than “A” work. If we were grading on a “pass/fail” basis, we’d be failing.

That, in the end, is how Mother Nature grades.

The following teachers’ notes reflect the mixed term we’ve had as a state:

The good news notwithstanding, Oregon is not on track.

“On track” would mean a GHG reduction trajectory that reduced emissions some 20% by 2020 (only seven years away) net of emissions growth from a recovering economy .

While GHG emissions from electricity generation will dip in 2020 when Boardman ends coal burning there, emissions growth in utilities will resume if: (a) PGE relies largely on gas to fill its needs (including backfilling Boardman); and, (b) PacifiCorp does not reduce its dependence – and ours – on coal.

Oregon industrial emissions are down since 2000, but most of that resulted from aluminum leaving the region ; further reductions must come from efficiency gains.

Only in transportation do we see downward-trending emissions curves that look sustainable, and these are still not dropping sharply enough to track Oregon’s goals. Tri-Met’s 2012 service reductions were a step backward, coming when further emissions reductions depend in important part on increasing transit service levels faster than the rate of population growth . Improving transit, bike, pedestrian and car-share modes are essential to our region’s economic and equity goals as well as our environmental ones.

Still No Carbon Signal

In 2009 the Commission adopted Resolution 2009-3-012, calling upon Congress to adopt a carbon emissions reduction mechanism that would be “sound, equitable and timely.” But the Congress has failed to perform even as states and communities like ours have stepped up our games. We can credit the Obama Administration with acting to boost new car fuel economy standards, imposing GHG limitations on new power plants, and now proposing to limit GHG emissions from existing power plants.. But only an economy-wide signal – a carbon cap or carbon tax – will truly change the rules of the game in meaningful ways; not only ramping down vehicle and power plant emissions in predictable, scheduled, systematic and non-disruptive ways, but also – and more importantly – releasing the creative genius of American inventors, businesses and yes, even our financial wizards, onto the problem. When we do this as a country, there is little we cannot accomplish, whether winning WWII or defeating AIDs and cancer. The kind of ingenuity a clear carbon signal would unleash would do so at a cost far lower than we can guess at today. With collateral benefits we can’t yet know.

We just have to decide to do it.

Read the Commission’s full Report here.

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