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Metro takes steps to fight climate change

Study says Portland area can expect more heat, bugs, mold


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Clackamas Town Center Transit Center conveniently connects cars, TriMet buses and MAX trains for commuters and shoppers.Transit-oriented development on 82nd Avenue in Portland. Revitalizing downtown Beaverton as a walkable neighborhood. A new park in Gateway. Electric car-charging stations in Hillsboro. A walking trail in Rockwood. A community-based bus system in Wilsonville.

Those are among the local initiatives that already are fighting climate change by encouraging alternatives to private motor-vehicle trips, according to Metro, the regional elected government. Similar projects will become increasingly important as proof mounts that human activity is responsible for global warming, Metro says.

The most recent proof is included in the latest United Nations assessment of climate change that was released on Friday, Sept. 27. It was compiled by the U.N.-sponsored International Panel on Climate Change. The assessment concluded there is now a 95 percent probability that human activity is changing the Earth by releasing a growing amount of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

“Human influence has been detected in warming the atmosphere and the oceans, in changes to the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes,” according to the report. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Climate change will impact the Portland area, according to a report released Oct. 9 by Multnomah County. Among other things, the health department’s Climate Change and Public Health Preparation Plan predicts it will cause hotter summers and wetter winters, leading to an increase in mosquitoes, mold and mildew.

Support for tax?

Although the state is committed to fighting climate change, a recent report from the Oregon Global Warming Commission is not promising. The report said the state is not on track to meet its 2020 and 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals. According to the report, the state only met its 2010 goal because the Great Recession reduced economic activity.

The three reports support those who argue for sweeping government actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Proposals include a tax on carbon-based fuels, including gasoline and diesel, commonly called a carbon tax. Supporters say that among other things, such a tax would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles by discouraging driving.

Carbon taxes are being studied by the Oregon Legislature and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who worked with the Oregon Environmental Council on a survey to gauge public support for a local one. The OEC is declining to release the results of the survey, which it sponsored. It shows some public support for a carbon tax if the revenue was used to improve roads, according to an aide to Hales who has seen it.

But a state or local carbon tax is likely to face political opposition from utilities, manufacturers and petroleum companies. And mitigating its impact on low-income families and individuals will also be challenging.

Metro says there are less controversial ways to fight climate change, however. According to Metro officials, local initiatives like those in Portland, Beaverton, Gateway, Hillsboro, Rockwood and Wilsonville are not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they are improving the quality of life in those cities.

State direction

The elected Metro Council has not taken a position on local carbon taxes. But the agency is studying local initiatives to reduce driving in the region as part of its Climate Smart Scenarios Project, which was started to help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

At the direction of the Oregon Legislature, the state Land Conservation and Development Commission has tasked Metro with reducing emissions from cars and light trucks 20 percent by 2035. The studies suggest the region can surpass that goal by funding more initiatives to reduce driving.

The project recently completed and published eight case studies of specific initiatives throughout the region. In addition to those in the six cities, they include employer-based commuter programs and neighborhood-based travel options. Together, they are providing residents in the region with numerous alternatives to single trips in private automobiles, one of the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Metro found that most of the initiatives are rooted in the 2040 Growth Concept Plan adopted by the regional government in 1990 to guide growth and development over the following 50 years. Among other things, it encourages growth in designated urban centers and along existing transportation corridors. Since it was adopted, cities in the region have amended their state-mandated comprehensive land use plan to include many of the concepts. They include increased transit options, such as the Portland Streetcar, and an emphasis on encouraging such “active transportation” options as walking and bicycling.

The state has directed Metro to adopt a regional plan — called a scenario — for meeting its 2035 greenhouse gas reduction target. The council will consider a range of options based on the results of the case studies later this year. The final scenario, to be adopted in December 2014, could well include elements from all of them.

Funding the scenario will be a challenge, however. Metro is projecting a shortfall of up to $26 billion to build and maintain needed infrastructure in the region over the next two decades. Although many ideas are being discussed — including encouraging private investment in public infrastructure projects — regional leaders have yet to agree on financing plans.

To learn more about the Climate Change Scenarios project and the case studies, visit Metro’s website at www.oregonmetro.gov/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=36945