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Metro Council approves emission reduction plan

Clackamas County Commission considers legal challenge

Photo Credit: COURTESY METRO - Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington talks about her vote to approve the region's Climate Smart strategies. Calling it a natural progression of Oregon's land use planning legacy, the Metro Council on Thursday unanimously approved its strategies for cutting the region's personal motor vehicle tailpipe emissions.

If successful, the strategies will cut the region's emissions by 29 percent by 2035.

Work on developing the strategies, part of Metro's Climate Smart project, has been ongoing since 2009, when the Oregon Legislature ordered the Portland regional government to come up with a plan for curbing tailpipe emissions by 20 percent before 2035.

What Metro found, while studying the mandate, was that simply building out locally-adopted land use and transportation plans would exceed that 20 percent mandate. Basically, plans already on the books would achieve the goals.

Still, regional politics played a role in shaping Thursday's vote. Some suburban officials wanted the climate strategies to place more emphasis on reducing road congestion to reduce tailpipe emissions, and making it equal with transit, walking, bicycling and other strategies.

Both the Metro Policy Advisory Committee and Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation asked that reduction of congestion be moved to a list of actions that could be taken in the next two years to meet the state's mandate.

Even with that move, the Clackamas County Commission voted on Dec. 10 to oppose adoption of the Climate Smart strategies, in part, commissioners said, to preserve their ability to try to stop the plan in court.

At Thursday's meeting, Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen moved to adopt the changes recommended by JPACT and MPAC. He was questioned by Councilor Kathryn Harrington, who wondered whether prioritizing road improvements might get in the way of pedestrian safety.

"Safety would be part of the design," answered Metro project manager Kim Ellis. "It would be for all modes, not just for motor vehicles, but for all users of the transportation system."

Councilor Bob Stacey wanted to make sure that the proposed amendment wouldn't lock the region into funding road projects that don't necessarily help address the climate problems.

But Dirksen said the amendment would only add road capacity to a list of things that could be considered before a project could be funded in the next two years.

"My own analysis concurs with the description that Councilor Dirksen provided," Stacey said. "It's an appropriate acknowledgement that there are improvements to the road system that can lead to positive impacts in greenhouse gas reductions, and this language will not compel us to pick bad projects."

The motion passed unanimously.

Before their votes, councilors spoke about the gravity of Thursday's vote. Harrington put a picture of Earth on the dais as she talked about an inspirational speech she once heard from an Apollo astronaut.

"He reminded us we need to continue to work together," Harrington said of the unnamed astronaut. "I want every generation to be able to breathe good, clean, healthy air and have the benefit of birds, bugs and trees on this planet and in their everyday lives."

In her remarks, Councilor Carlotta Collette said the Climate Smart strategies were an indirect testament to the foresight of Oregon's land use laws. Since the strategies to curb emissions are based off already-adopted local plans, she said, it confirms that what the region has been doing is right.

"I don't think Senate Bill 100 mentioned anything about climate or greenhouse gases or reducing tailpipe emissions, but somehow we managed, over the years, to come up with a plan that also does that," she said. "It was great to be able, over the last couple of years, to be able to go back to our cities and say 'You're already doing the right stuff.'"

Metro Council President Tom Hughes said the project was remarkable in the way it pulled together the region to develop the strategy.

"We started this, as we start almost every dialogue with our colleagues in the various communities, with a question from them of 'What is it you're going to make us do now,'" Hughes said. "We ended it with the answer to 'What are we all going to do together?'"

Hughes recalled getting invited to the Emperor of Japan's birthday party back when he was a high school teacher and mayor of Hillsboro. Hughes was bragging about the invitation to his students, one of whom responded, "Yeah, but it would be more impressive if he came to your party."

"That's kind of the parallel for where we are now," Hughes said. "It's impressive that we've arrived where we are now. It will be more impressive if we can hold together this coalition to work the Legislature, to work Congress, to get the funding we need."

The funding will be key. The strategies identified in the Climate Smart work will cost billions of dollars to build out in the next 20 years, and only some of that money already exists.

The plan still has to pass muster with the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission — the Legislature made LCDC responsible for ensuring it can meet the state's mandate for curbing emissions.

Nick Christensen is a reporter working for Metro who covers the elected regional government. His stories are reviewed for accuracy by the Portland Tribune before posting.