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Eugene Weekly : News : 5.21.09




Inconvenient Truth

City barely supports carbon reduction

by Alan Pittman

In its first concrete action to fight global warming, the Eugene City Council voted to support a proposed anti-carbon bill in the state Legislature. Barely.

The 4-4 tie vote on the council was broken by Mayor Kitty Piercy in favor of actually doing something about climate change. The vote was to tentatively support the legislation if it’s amended to address concerns about city costs, local input and dispute mediation. 

The legislation, an amendment to House Bill 2001 backed by 1000 Friends of Oregon and other state environmental groups, would require large metro areas in Oregon to amend local transportation and land use plans to address state greenhouse emission reduction goals. Whether the legislation actually forces reductions in global warming would apparently depend on how it’s enforced.

The Legislature previously set aspirational goals to work towards reducing 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 75 percent by 2050. About half of local greenhouse pollution is from cars. 

Councilors Betty Taylor, Alan Zelenka, George Brown and Andrea Ortiz voted in support of the global warming legislation. Councilors Chris Pryor, Mike Clark, Jennifer Solomon and George Poling opposed the legislation. 

Clark, who has expressed doubt that humans have caused global warming, said the planning requirement “is going to divert monies” from road funding. 

Solomon complained the state bill is “taking away our local control.”

Pryor, the PR person for Springfield’s Willamalane Park district, said Eugene should join Springfield in opposing the effort to reduce global warming. A vote to do that failed 5-4 along the same lines. 

“This amendment is exactly what we need to be doing,” said Zelenka. “We are woefully behind.”

The Obama administration took action this week to set tough new car mileage and emission standards, and Congress is moving forward on a cap-and-trade system for industrial sources to reduce global warming.

Substitute legislation proposed by Springfield would be “making it so squishy that it has no teeth at all,” Zelenka said. 

Zelenka pointed out that the local Metropolitan Policy Committee has already voted this month to consider greenhouse emissions in transportation plans. “We’re doing almost exactly this.”

“It would be really bad and opposed of all our values and standards if we don’t support it,” said Taylor of the global warming bill. 

Ortiz, a Whitaker-area councilor who’s swung between conservatives and progressives on the council, initially appeared against the environmental legislation. “I didn’t want to support it,” she said. But she voted for it after Piercy spoke.

“Now is the time you have to address greenhouse gases,” Piercy said.

The city’s lobbyist Brenda Wilson said she expects the greenhouse amendment to be included in the large transportation bill moving through the Legislature. But she told the council that the climate

amendment may be changed to only apply to Portland. 

Wilson told the council the entire transportation bill may be ultimately defeated because it includes a gas tax increase. “I believe that bill will be referred to the voters and there will be a subsequent fight.”

It’s also unclear whether powerful city of Eugene staff will subvert any council or state effort to reduce global warming locally. The city planning, transportation and public works departments and city attorney argued against the bill to reduce global warming. 

City transportation planning manager Rob Inerfeld argued the city should only support climate change legislation if compliance is optional. “This bill will just add another layer to our work,” he complained in a memo.

Eugene principal planner Steve Nystrom wrote that he opposed reducing sprawl to address global warming. “There are some fairly loaded words in this bill that clearly raise the stakes on accommodating more dense communities,” the planner wrote.

Public Works PR person Eric Jones predicted “some real pushback from” city staff if funds are diverted from roads to reducing global warming.

A decade ago, Eugene city staff joined anti-environmental groups in a successful effort to thwart a previous state effort to reduce car pollution, the Transportation Planning Rule, by lobbying for weaker regulations.

Only Felicity Fahy, the New Zealander recently hired to work as the city’s sustainability manager, expressed support for the city actually doing something to control global warming. 

Fahy noted that unlike the state bill, other aspirational city efforts lack “teeth” and have no mandates that they actually reduce global warming. She wrote: “We need to build these requirements into all our land use, transportation, infrastructure, etc. planning and take action as soon as possible.”