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Monday, January 02, 2006

News From My Backyard: Oregon Governor Kulongoski Speeks Out on Climate Change

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski spoke out on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and their potential effects on the Pacific Northwest's environment and economy in a speech delivered to the state Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) in Portland on December 22nd.

Kulongoski called upon the Commission to "create a strategic plan for how the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) can develop and expand existing programs to combat global warming and improve air quality."

Highlighting the critical nature of climate change, the governor reminded the Commission, "Our regional scientists and economists have continued to warn us that climate change poses perhaps the most significant threat to Oregon’s economy, environment and our quality of life over the coming years and decades."

To affirm this statement, Kulongoski refered to an unspecified study by "a group of Pacific Northwest economists." The study reportedly found that "the effects of global warming will have adverse effects on [Oregon's] economy in at least eight key sectors if we don’t make this issue a priority today."

According to the governor, these sectors include: Drinking Water; Agriculture; Forestry; Snow-Based Recreation; Coastal Tourism, Recreation and Infrastructure; Power Generation; Salmon Recovery; and Public Health which Kulongoski singled out as being "perhaps the most important."

As the governor points out in his speech, climate change has been a priority for his administration and he previously announced the adoption of state-wide greenhouse gas emission reductions last spring. The targets, based upon recommendations from his Advisory Group on Global Warming, call for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to levels 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Kulongoski went on to say:

"As you know, carbon dioxide accounts for the lion’s share of our greenhouse gases – and transportation alone accounts for nearly 40 percent of total carbon emissions in Oregon.

Looking at the largest sources of carbon emissions, and the most effective ways to reduce those emissions, my Advisory Group recommended that we adopt stricter vehicle emissions standards – and I hope that you share my commitment to moving forward on this critical part of our strategy to curb global warming and improve air quality.

It is projected that if we adopt stricter emissions standards for cars and small trucks beginning with model year 2009, we can reduce carbon emissions by 13-18 percent over the next 15 years and up to 30 percent over the next 25 years. Whereas if we do nothing, our trend of increasing emissions will continue at approximately 1.6 percent per year.

Beyond the reduction in carbon emissions, stricter standards will help provide the benefits of better fuel efficiency and longer lasting emission systems in our cars – in addition to cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. And contrary to what opponents say, consumer choice will be expanded not diminished.

Furthermore, adopting new standards will also help us create new economic opportunities. Oregon already has one of the highest per capita uses of hybrids in the country and a small niche of electric car manufacturers. New standards would increase demand for these advanced technology cars, which in turn would attract and support emerging new industries in the fields of technology and innovation."

Kulongoski has previously committed to enacting the stricter California vehicle emissions standards which will include standards for greenhouse gases for vehicles beginning with model year 2009.

The governor also used the speech to highlight two existing air quality programs that he believes should be expanded - the Air Toxics Program which the governor touted as "a model nationally for reducing air toxics emissions from industry and vehicles and the many small sources of emissions that collectively cause more health risks than industry," as well as the Oregon Clean Diesel Initiative, "which targets the reduction of emissions from Oregon’s most significant air toxic – diesel fuel combustion products."

The governor pointed to an initiative he began last year to install anti-idling technologies at Oregon truck stops (which curb the practice of overnight idling and reduce diesel consumption and emissions) as an example of the many techniques and technologies that can reduce diesel use.

Biodiesel's potential environmental and economic benefits were also mentioned with the governor reaffirming that "expanding this industry remains a priority of mine as we look to innovative ways to grow our economy in partnership with protecting our environment."

Obliquely refering to past conflicts with the Republican-controlled state legislature over tighter emissions standards and other policies to combat climate change, the governor said, "This last session proved that our work is cut out for us in engaging the legislature in a real solutions-oriented debate about the cause and effects of global warming."

However, Kulongoski said he would continue a dialogue with the legislature and also pointed out that he was "committed to doing what we can through administrative action within existing statutory authorities – so that we begin to make meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and continue to improve Oregon’s air quality" without having to wrangle with the legislature.

The governor pledged to "continue to work with the Legislature to increase understanding of the need for Oregon to act now, and act decisively, to combat global warming" and proceeded to call upon the EQC to:

  • First - Create a strategic plan for how the Department of Environmental Quality can develop and expand existing programs to combat global warming and improve air quality.

  • Second - Revisit the report by the governor's Advisory Group on Global Warming, study its recommendations, and identify actions that can be implemented to complement the actions already underway in the areas of: waste management; landfill methane capture; targeted carbon reduction; and renewable energy.

  • Third – Build on the Air Toxics Program and Clean Diesel Initiatives while also exploring the effectiveness of voluntary incentive-based programs that either: target the emissions of particular air pollutants, encourage the use of renewable energy, or even target specific regions of the state – such as the Columbia Gorge.

  • Governor Kulongoski concluded by saying:
    "Oregon’s airshed and climate do not belong to any one generation. They belong to every generation – past, present and future.

    The challenge before us is to balance the economic, environmental and social values that are dividends we earn from living in a place with some of the world’s most magnificent natural resources. This is our collective job – and I have no doubt that you [the EQC] and I are both up to the challenge."

    [A hat tip to Green Car Congress]

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