New Eugene Climate and Energy Plan Shows Local Government Still Works

By Bob Doppelt
Eugene, OR (November 4, 2010)- With Congress gridlocked by partisan politics it’s heartening to see local officials rising above their political differences and supporting continued progress on global warming. Eugene’s new Climate and Energy Action Plan is a case in point. It was unanimously endorsed by the City Council last month.

The new plan aims to help the community respond to and capture the opportunities presented by global warming and a changing energy economy. Its roots go back to 2005 when Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors “climate protection agreement.” Nine hundred mayors have now signed the declaration.
Also in 2005 Mayor Piercy launched the Eugene Sustainable Business Initiative, which UO student interns and I coordinated for SBI for the city. The following year the SBI recommended to the City Council the establishment of a Sustainability Commission. As it did with the Climate and Energy Plan the Council overcame partisan differences and unanimously adopted this recommendation. The SBI also recommended that a strategy be crafted to respond to global warming. The Council punted this suggestion to the new commission, which came back to them in September with the plan they endorsed.
Mayor Piercy has been a key player throughout the entire process. She deserves credit for continually pushing the community to improve its competitive advantage through enhanced sustainability while also addressing climate change. But a great deal of credit must also be given to the city council. In contrast to our dysfunctional Congress, the council has overcome ideological divides and remained steadfast in its support of sustainability and climate change programs.
The new strategy embodies responsible planning. Every organization that wants to be around over the long term continually gathers the most credible information available about potential future risks and compares it to current conditions. Plans are then made to protect themselves from those risks while also establishing conditions that help them benefit from emerging opportunities. So it is with the new Eugene approach.
Three goals were established for the community: cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2020; slash fossil fuel use by 50 percent by 2030; and develop a plan to prepare the city for the impacts of climate change that can no longer be prevented. These objectives might seem ambitious. But they could appear modest in short order. Some analysts are predicting that within five years the market will begin to devalue assets that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels due to their large financial risks. This will trigger major changes in our energy systems.
New Environmental Protection Agency regulations are certain to force the closure of many older coal-fired power plants, adding more impetus to the energy shift. And public demand for domestic and international action on global warming will only grow as heat waves, floods, wildfires and other extreme events make the impacts increasingly obvious to all. For these and other reasons, like it or not, we are on the cusp of major changes in our economy and environment that could rapidly eclipse the plan’s current targets. If done well, the Climate and Energy Plan should help Eugene remain healthy and vibrant through the transition.
In some ways Eugene is late to the game on climate action plans. In other important ways it is among the leaders. Almost 150 U.S. cities have already adopted, or are developing such plans. However, most have been large urban areas such as New York, Miami, Chicago, Portland and Seattle. Eugene is among the first mid-sized communities in the nation to adopt a formal action plan. It is also one of the first to integrate carbon reduction and climate preparedness strategies in a single framework and the first to assess the local health effects of global warming.
Some positive outcomes have already resulted. A group that formed during the planning process secured a three-year grant from EPA to educate the community about alternative forms of transportation. A staff person has been hired to provide information to residents about home food gardening, food security, and other food-related questions. One of the plan’s future benefits, according to Matt McCrae, who coordinated its development for the City, should be cost savings for homeowners and businesses through a greatly increased focus on improved energy efficiency.
McCrae also believes that within five years residents should see measurable reductions in fossil fuel use. This will be important if, as described, the market begins to devalue fossil fuels. It is also significant because about 85 percent of the $12 billion Oregonians annually spend on energy is sent out of state. Less fossil fuel consumption keeps more money in local hands.
As these and other benefits unfold Eugenians should remember how they came about. Local elected official’s set aside their diverse political philosophies and together made decisions in the broader interests of the community. Congress should take a lesson.
Related Resources
The Statesman-Journal- New Eugene Climate and Energy Plan Sows Local Government Still Works
City of Eugene
Eugene Tree Foundation