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Changes address coal, oil shipments, carbon emissions

Portland and Multnomah County are set to formally oppose coal and oil exports through their jurisdictions, and may divest their holdings in fossil fuel stocks. They also may consider a tax or fee on carbon emissions if the state won’t do it.

Those are some of the latest additions to the city and county’s joint Climate Action Plan, being updated for the first time since 2009.

The Portland City Council is set to adopt the updated plan on Wednesday, followed by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Portland issued the nation’s first climate action plan by a big city back in 1993, and has achieved so much success that other cities and institutions have adopted their own plans.

The joint city/county plan calls for lowering carbon emissions locally by a whopping 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. Those are the amounts experts say are needed worldwide to avert major climate disruption from global warming.

“Business as usual is not going to get us there,” says Michael Armstrong, deputy director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. The Climate Action Plan includes a “laundry list” of ways to get there, he says.

The good news, at least locally, is that the Climate Action Plan has already helped reduce total carbon emissions by 14 percent, and 32 percent on a per capita basis, a remarkable achievement.

But much more needs to be done to reach the ambitious goals — which require a 1.5 percent annual drop in carbon emissions until 2030, and then 1.8 percent a year to meet the 2050 goal.

Europe tends to use regulations to lower carbon emissions, while Portland and Multnomah County have largely chosen to use incentives, says Susan Anderson, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. In the past, Anderson says, Portlanders’ top motivation for adopting environmental practices often stemmed from other goals, such as improving their children’s health or lowering their utility bills. But now residents seem more willing to take action explicitly to address climate change, she says.

Promoting a Meatless Monday campaign, one of the new Climate Action Plan tasks, is a perfect example of the city’s and county’s softer approach. That would be an effort to draw attention to the high carbon footprint of beef and other red meats.

“Food choice matters,” Armstrong says.

But reaching the city’s and county’s ultimate goals likely will require more mandatory changes with bigger impacts. An example would be attaching a price to carbon — a policy that most experts say is essential if the world’s nations are going to adequately address climate change. By putting the city and county on record opposed to coal and oil exports, that could thwart efforts by coal and oil companies to ship products through the area.

The 2015 version of the 161-page Climate Action Plan is chock full of goals and projects involving public policies, government investments and efforts to change human and business behavior. Each goal is assigned to different city bureaus and county departments to take the lead. The most imminent new goals in the plan must be achieved over the next five years. Those include:

• Establish a fossil fuels export policy, which could determine how the city and county respond to future propane export proposals and Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline projects.

• Develop a “sustainable consumption policy,” which tries to get people to consider the lifetime carbon impact of all the “stuff” they purchase.

• Promote the purchase of 8,000 new electric vehicles per year.

• Require all homes to have an Energy Performance Standard label, which functions much like a miles-per-gallon sticker on cars. The stickers would state the home’s monthly utility cost for heating and other energy usage.

• Play a more direct role in limiting “black carbon” from diesel engines and wood stove emissions.

• Work with residents, businesses and local utilities to reduce the carbon content in local electricity sold here by 3 percent a year. That means getting Portland General Electric and Pacific Power to accelerate their move away from coal power in their local energy mix.

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Percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in Multnomah County using a new consumption-based approach

Motor vehicles and parts 18%

Food and drink 15%

Appliances 13%

Services 9%

Other manufactured goods


Mass transit, airplanes, freight


Health care 7%

Construction 7%

Furnishings and supplies 4%

Retailers 3%

Electronics 3%

Clothing 2%

Lighting, fixtures 2%

Other 2%

Source: Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

2015 Climate Action Plan

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