By Midge Pierce

Mere hours after the new administration gutted the Environmental Protection Agency website, and just days after climate data confirmed that 2016 was the hottest on record, a SE Portland church packed in citizens concerned that science had been stripped from Washington.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Angus Duncan, chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, reassured the audience that there’s “a good chance to bring down gas utility and transportation emissions” regardless of federal environmental rollbacks.

On the good news side, the climate speakers at the Let’s Talk Climate forum at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church said states moving in the right direction will continue to move in the right direction. Oregon fossil fuel emissions peaked in 1999, well before national emissions did in 2008.

“Coal is already in free fall,” according to Angus Duncan, chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. Wind and solar energy storage capacity is poised to burgeon as progress proceeds on high efficiency storage batteries that will make passive energy prices more competitive with natural gas.

Moreover, Oregonians can take heart that state initiatives, such as the end of coal use at PGE’s Boardman plant in 2020, are too far along to reverse. Oregon was the first state to say no to coal, but our small size compared to neighboring California minimizes that accomplishment.

Challenges abound, foremost among them, where PGE will get its energy after the coal plant shutters. Likely, gas will be used when wind and solar can’t deliver.

Adding to the challenge, greenhouse emissions have crept up in the last two years since the recession ended largely due to more SUVs and trucks on the road. Duncan believes electric cars could help alleviate the use of fossil fuels.

Forest management is a particular challenge in our tree-canopied state. During fires, enormous stores of carbon are released into the atmosphere. Duncan said a fire like the Biscuit Fire of 2002 can release enough Co2 to rival or those from the Boardman plant over the course of a year.

“We know precious little about how to address forest fires, flooding and the heat of the future,” he admitted.

Mostly, the message of the evening was a call for the Democrat-leaning crowd to take action to persuade Republican state legislators that greenhouse gases must be reduced despite the cost.

It is a tough sell, according to State Senator Michael Dembrow given Salem’s focus on a $1.8 billion budget shortfall. As chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, he came bearing heavy baggage: Partisan members have threatened not to support a critical transportation package unless the Senate releases a clean fuels bill.

“Climate change is real. If we don’t take action today, we’re screwed,” he said. “Your job is to help people move (the environment) up the priority scale.”

Dembrow also stressed that lawmakers should mitigate the burden on vulnerable, low income populations if energy costs rise.

Energy justice is a concern for Shilpa Joshi, organizing director of Renew Oregon (reneworegon.org).

One solution is to tie job creation with environmental impact mitigation. Including job growth in energy measures could garner Republican support.

The bill she supports, known as Oregon’s Clean Energy Jobs Bill, would create jobs in the energy efficiency sectors, cap greenhouse gas usage and impose penalty “fees” that ideally would be re-invested toward energy needs in poor parts of the state.

One problem in passing energy bills is that those related to transportation issues generate funds that go back to transport – not energy – improvements. Both are needed.

Joshi exhorted legislators against using Oregon’s reputation as an environmental trailblazer as cover not to enact further greenhouse mitigation.

Let’s Talk Climate, a well attended series of seminars at Mt. Tabor Presbyterian’s Tabor Space, will address Net Zero Housing at its next forum on May 15. 

For more information, see letstalkclimatepdx.org/p/about.html or ask to join the mailing list at contact@letstalkclimatepdx.org.