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Oregon hits 2010 emissions target

But state isnt on track to reach 2020 carbon gases goal


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF PGE - The Boardman coal plant in Eastern Oregon is the largest single source of carbon emissions in the state. Portland General Electric has committed to stop burning coal at the plant in 2020, which should reduce greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change. Three years after the fact, Oregon can now boast that the state reached its first official milestone for stemming climate change — halting the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 and starting to reduce those emissions.

But the state is nowhere near where it needs to be to hit its second milestone — ratcheting back greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 baseline levels by 2020.

Newly crunched state data show that Oregon clearly succeeded in putting carbon dioxide and related greenhouse gas emissions on a downward trend by 2010, the most recent year for which statewide figures are available. However, Oregon does not appear on track to meet its 2020 goal during the next seven years, according to a new draft report by the Oregon Global Warming Commission to the Oregon Legislature.

“We should feel really good that we reached our 2010 goal,” says Angus Duncan, commission chairman.

But nobody on the commission thinks the state should rest on its laurels, given the massive, unpredictable impacts of global climate change that scientists say already are occurring.

“We can pat ourselves on the back for a few minutes,” says Andrea Durbin, executive director of the Oregon Environmental Council and a member of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. “We don’t have a game plan yet for the state on how we’re going to meet our 2020 goals,” Durbin says.

Oregonians are driving less, and emissions from industry have fallen, according to the report. And environmentalists scored a major victory when Portland General Electric agreed to stop burning coal at its Boardman plant — Oregon’s single-largest source of carbon emissions — by 2020. But emissions traced to residents and commercial businesses keep rising, along with Oregon’s population.

“Only in transportation do we see downward-trending emissions curves that look sustainable, and these are still not dropping sharply enough to track Oregon’s goals,” Duncan says in the commission’s required biennial report to the Legislature.

“Only an economy-wide signal — a carbon cap or carbon tax — will truly change the rules of the game in meaningful ways,” Duncan concludes.

Measuring progress

Duncan, president of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, was a member of the original global warming advisory group appointed by then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2003. The following year, the panel recommended greenhouse gas emissions goals for 2010, 2020 and 2050, designed to prod Oregon to do its part to address the threat from climate change. The Oregon Legislature made the goals official state policy in 2007.

When the 2010 goal was conceived in 2004, there wasn’t enough recent data to know that greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon already had peaked five years earlier, Duncan says.

The state calculates that Oregon accounted for 56.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or the equivalent in other greenhouse gases, in 1990, the baseline year used to measure progress. After steadily climbing throughout the 1990s, emissions peaked at 71.9 million metric tons in 1999 but then began dropping during the next decade.

By 2010, statewide greenhouse gas emissions fell to 62.8 million tons, evidence that Oregon was making more progress than much of the rest of the nation. Oregon emissions in 2010 were on par with 1993 levels. The newest data also shows that Oregon is narrowing the gap with the state of Washington, says Bill Drumheller, senior policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Energy, who is on staff to the global warming commission. Washington has more access than Oregon to hydroelectric power from Columbia River dams, which produce no carbon emissions.

Despite Oregon’s recent progress, the new analysis suggests the state won’t meet its 2020 goal of 50.6 million tons without significant new initiatives. That makes it even harder to achieve the state’s more ambitious goal for 2050: slashing emissions to 75 percent below 1990 levels, or only 14 million tons.

There also are concerns that the 2013 Legislature could reverse progress on greenhouse gas emissions rather than enact bold new policies to curb them, such as a proposed carbon tax.

Some members of the Oregon Global Warming Commission also question how much of the recent reduction in emissions is due to the lingering effects of the Great Recession. With fewer people working, business activity and road traffic are reduced.

Drumheller says some but not all of the recent reductions are due to the recession. Oregonians continue to reduce their driving, for example, and they’re buying more hybrid, electric and other vehicles with improved fuel efficiency. In 2011, per-capita use of gasoline in Oregon fell to its lowest level since 1962.

The state refined its data collection methods for 2010, requiring large greenhouse gas emitters to file reports with the Department of Environmental Quality. That provided the state more confidence that its past estimates of carbon emissions were on target, according to Drumheller.

The state also is developing new ways to measure emissions, to analyze the data from different angles.

The primary method, called the “in-boundary” method, measures emissions from residents, industry, commercial businesses, agriculture and transportation that occurs within state boundaries. The state also includes emissions from coal and natural gas produced elsewhere that’s used here.

That is likely to remain the standard method for gauging progress, Duncan says.

Progress may be overstated

However, the state now has data from an alternate “consumption-based” method, which measures emissions attributed to goods and services consumed in Oregon. So far, there is only data for 2005 and 2010, and the early results suggest Oregon is not making any progress. By that method, Oregon accounted for 74.8 million tons of emissions in 2005 and 74.7 million tons in 2010.

The consumption-based method doesn’t count goods produced in Oregon but sold out of state, such as Intel computer chips. But it does factor emissions from a smartphone purchased here that’s made in China.

The higher figures from the consumption-based method are a sign that Oregonians buy and consume many products made elsewhere with a bigger carbon footprint, Duncan says, such as goods made at Chinese plants powered by carbon-spewing coal.

“Under the consumption-based inventory, we can see that there is a carbon cost of manufacturing off-shore,” Duncan says.

He’s not so concerned that the alternate method shows a lack of progress lately, because there’s little data available. It may be that there was considerable progress made prior to 2005, Duncan says.

Many experts like using the consumption method because an individual can more clearly understand how their own lifestyle affects climate change by the goods and services they consume. Much like recycling, that gives people a tangible way to feel like they are making a difference.

Portland gains are greater

The city of Portland, in conjunction with Multnomah County, has more rigorous goals for countering climate change and is making greater strides. However, its successes closely track those of the state, says Michael Armstrong, deputy director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

“We are making progress, but we absolutely have our work cut out for us,” he says.

The city/county goal for 2010, set in 2001, was to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels. That’s the same target as the state but a full decade earlier. Portland and Multnomah County also hope to slash emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.

The city and county, which have more up-to-date data than the state, came close to meeting their 2010 goal, Armstrong says. However, emissions were down partly due to the economic slowdown, he says, and they climbed in 2011 as the economy improved. That year, Portland and Multnomah County accounted for carbon emissions estimated at 8 percent below the 1990 level.

The Oregon Global Warming Commission has laid out 40 key strategies to meet the state’s next milestone, called the “Road Map to 2020.” In the draft report to the Legislature, the commission lists progress — or lack thereof — on those strategies in transportation, land use, industry, forestry, agriculture and other sectors.

In the report, Duncan notes that “Congress has failed us, and the country, in moving to address the threat of disruptive climate change, even as states and communities like ours have stepped up their games.”

However, Duncan says he’s “not prepared to concede” the state won’t hit its 2020 milestone.

Durbin is disappointed that state lawmakers aren’t taking climate change seriously. “They’re not really looking at this issue this year,” she says. Durbin hopes that Gov. John Kitzhaber, if he runs for another term and wins, will make climate change one of his priorities.