Woodsong: Regional carbon fee, rebate could ease climate crisis
Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González must be applauded for his bold stance opposing the approval of MTIP amendments related to increasing funding for freeway-widening projects on Highway 217 and Interstate 205. The lack of interest of the rest of the council in taking meaningful climate action begs the question, why do we even bother having an elected Metro Council, if they're just going to serve as the same rubber stamp to staff recommendations that non-elected metropolitan planning organization councils are perfectly capable of in the rest of the country? It's past time to stop throwing good money after bad. Our already built-out freeway system ignores the very real need to complete our region's pedestrian, bicycle, transit and trail networks, and reconstruct our region's arterials to become the anchors of a pedestrian-oriented system of centers and corridors. We must pivot from our current automobile-focused transportation system, to create an urban multi-modal network built around communities for people, rather than infrastructure for automobiles. Shockingly, a majority of our elected leaders still support freeway expansion, despite a climate crisis that demands re-focusing on bicycles, pedestrians, transit, and arterial retrofits, in order to make real progress towards our greenhouse gas reduction goals with the sense of urgency that is required. Whether our elected bodies are intentionally or unintentionally ducking meaningful climate action, the outcome from the climate crisis is the same, including a heat event in June that took the lives of 76 people in the region during a long weekend. Are our elected officials out of synch with the people of the Portland region? Recent ballot box results would suggest that the citizenry are in favor of bolder climate action; the vote for Measure 26-201 passed with 65% in November 2018, creating the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund. Perhaps it's time for the people to take direction action and place a measure directly on the ballot to enact a regional carbon fee. This fee could raise funds to increase the climate resiliency of our region's built environment, with a $500 monthly payment to every family in the region, providing the funds for things like new electric cars and bicycles, electric hybrid hot water heaters, electric furnaces and air conditioners, and solar panels to eliminate fossil fuel dependence. Not only would such a measure take an important step towards effective regional climate action, it would also create local jobs focused on building post-carbon, climate-resilient communities. The pandemic has taught us a number of lessons, one of which is what's actually possible in a short time frame when there is a sense of urgency and the will to act. We must respond to the climate emergency with the sense of urgency that we have exhibited in our pandemic response, and quickly begin to retrofit communities to plant trees and take other steps to reduce the urban heat island effect, reducing deaths and discomfort during heat events; make it safe to walk, ride bicycles and use other forms of low-speed transportation in every community in our region; and build out a zero-emission transit system with gusto. In my opinion, the next step for effective climate action requires passing a regional carbon fee with a climate rebate payment.
Garlynn Woodsong of Northeast Portland is with Woodsong Associates, a planning firm helping cities, towns and regions adapt to climate change.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.