Oregon is not reducing carbon dioxide emissions fast enough to meet its goals for 2020 and beyond, a new report finds. In fact, it’s not even close.

Those are the findings of a biennial report the Oregon Global Warming Commission will deliver to state lawmakers this week, and they come despite ambitious legislation passed to cut emissions from the electricity and transportation sectors. 

One culprit: Higher emissions from cars, trucks, trains, buses as more Oregonians drive more miles and buy less fuel-efficient cars because of population growth, a strong economy and cheap gas.

The question is whether state lawmakers will do anything about it, even as they watch the Trump administration move aggressively in the opposite direction, undoing federal climate change policies.    

For the first time, the commission’s report to the Legislature also includes an accounting of the carbon sequestered in the state’s forests. The carbon data, which is still being peer reviewed, is among the first of its kind in the United States and could have broad and potentially controversial implications for forest management policy.  

The report comes on the heels of a state climate change report card issued by environmental advocates that highlights successes and challenges in achieving the state’s emissions reductions goals. It also arrives at the start of a legislative session where a transportation funding package is a high priority, but may or may not include measures to expand public transit and electrical vehicle usage.

The report card from the advocacy group Renew Oregon graded the state in five separate clean energy and pollution control categories: how we produce power (A-), transportation systems (C-), creating more energy efficient buildings and operations (B-), innovative solutions (C), and climate equity (D).

Angus Duncan, the chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, said he concurred with the group’s findings, but would use a different grading scale.

“This is a Pass/Fail test,” he said, with huge consequences for our children.

Oregon emits about 63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, according to the commission’s report. Slightly more than a third can be traced to transportation, slightly less than a third from producing power, and the balance from industrial, agricultural, natural gas use, and residential and commercial activity, according to a breakdown in the Renew Oregon report card. 

The state’s legislatively mandated goals, passed in 2007, are equivalent to reducing overall emissions to about 51 million metric tons by 2020, 32 million metric tons by 2035 and 14 million metric tons by 2050.

It’s an aggressive plan, and on the present glidepath, one the state won’t come close to achieving. New projections show that in 2020, the state will still be emitting 61 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, 20 percent more than its goal. In 2035 and 2050, it will Retrobet miss by much wider margins.

Duncan said his clearest takeaway from the commission’s new analysis is that “if the legislature is going to do anything on carbon this session, make sure you do something on transportation. That’s the biggest deal. Emissions have been going up instead of down, not even going sideways anymore.”

Lawmakers passed a clean fuels bill in 2015 that aims to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 10 percent by 2025. But that measure already is included in the new projections, and it’s one Republican lawmakers would dearly love to weaken or undo altogether.

A new transportation funding package is being touted as the centerpiece of this year’s legislative agenda, but the priorities and funding are far from clear. So far, the focus has been on crumbling bridges and overpasses, new projects to ease congestion in the Portland area, and on improving the movement of freight around the state.

It’s unclear if a clean transportation component will make the priority list. Such measures could include funding for public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, electric cars and trucks, and intelligent transportation systems for more efficient freight logistics.

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, has introduced a bill that would establish a carbon cap and trade system that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects. But many observers believe the complicated and controversial measure won’t have much traction.

Renew Oregon’s report card included a variety of recommendations for the state to make progress on its goals. They included updating building codes to promote more efficient homes and buildings, redoubling energy efficiency retrofits, increased manufacturing and industrial efficiencies, and a continued push to replace thermal power plants with wind, solar and energy storage projects.

The prime mover, but least understood component of Oregon’s climate change landscape is its vast forests. The commission has been working to understand the carbon flows in Oregon forests and how that might inform state forestry policy, from harvest levels and biomass feedstock to fire suppression and forest restoration practices.

The report states that Oregon’s forests hold some 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That number is in constant flux because of forest growth, reforestation projects, harvests, forest fires, disease and weather patterns. Indeed, global warming could have a profound effect on forest health and carbon content, though it’s not yet clear how that will play out.  

Catherine Mater, who runs a forest products engineering firm in Corvallis and heads the commission’s forestry task force, said one preliminary conclusion is that on a net basis, Oregon’s forests capture and sequester some 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

“We still have work to do, but Oregon forests have an astounding impact” on carbon flows, Mater said. “The implications are going to be fairly significant. I think we’ll be ready to formalize recommendations in three months.”  

– Ted Sickinger


503-221-8505; @tedsickinger

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