By Rachel Dawson
Is Oregon meeting its 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goals? It depends on how you measure emissions.
The Oregon Legislature established GHG reduction goals in 2007 through HB 3543. The law called for reducing GHGs to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020, and 75% below 1990 levels by 2050.
However, the statute does not say whether GHGs should be measured in the aggregate or on a per capita basis. This is an important distinction given Oregon’s population growth since 2007.
The Oregon Global Warming Commission (OGWC), a group created by HB 3543, insists on measuring total GHG emissions. Using this metric, Oregon produced 13% more total emissions in 2017 compared to 1990 levels, and thus appears to be failing.
When measured on a per capita basis, Oregon GHG emissions in 2017 were actually 21% lower than 1990 levels. We have more than doubled the 10% emissions reduction goal, three years ahead of the deadline.
In fact, Oregon has improved its energy efficiency so much that per capita energy use in 2016 was the lowest it’s been since 1960, declining 37% since it peaked in 1972. Oregon has the lowest per capita energy use in the entire Northwest.
Unfortunately, you won’t see any celebration from the Global Warming Commission, because good news doesn’t sell. More importantly, the Commission needs the perception of a crisis in order to justify Governor Brown’s climate change agenda. Oregon legislators should remember this when the Governor’s cap-and-trade bill is debated in February.
Rachel Dawson is a Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
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By Eric Fruits, Ph.D.
“It’s time to get this done!” Governor Kate Brown told the crowd at this year’s Oregon Leadership Summit, referring to a replacement for the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. The statement ended with an exclamation point, but it should have ended with a question mark. Despite the urgency, it’s not clear what the governor means by “this” or when “this” should be completed.
Last month Governor Brown met with Washington Governor Jay Inslee and inked a deal to begin the process of replacing the I-5 bridge connecting the two states. The two states have allocated $44 million to open an office for the I-5 bridge project. Governors Brown and Inslee hope to pick up some of the pieces of the Columbia River Crossing project that fell apart in 2013 after a dozen years of planning, costing taxpayers more than $200 million.
But what is “this” bridge replacement? Will there be more lanes than we have now, or fewer? Will lanes be set aside for buses or light rail? Will bicyclists and pedestrians get their own lane? These are all different ways of asking the same question: Will the replacement have more lanes for cars and trucks?
If the answer is “yes,” there will be more lanes to relieve traffic congestion, then the governor should push to get as much done as possible before her term is over. If the answer is “no,” there won’t be new through-lane capacity, then she should admit the project is an expensive no-growth policy and be upfront with Oregonians about it.
Since the beginning of the original CRC planning in 2001, the region’s population has grown by nearly 30%. Over that time congestion has worsened, commuting times have lengthened, and the bridge has become one of the worst freight bottlenecks in the country, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.
At this point there are no clear plans for how the I-5 bridge replacement will relieve pressure on this key pinch point. The current bridge has three northbound and three southbound lanes. At the time the CRC project imploded, there were no clear plans to add through lanes for cars and trucks—just added lanes for bikes, pedestrians, and public transit.
Opponents of the bridge replacement come from all sides. Environmentalists and active transportation advocates argue that relieving traffic congestion will trigger “induced demand” for travel that will make congestion worse and increase carbon emissions. Commuters and freight haulers complain the set-aside for bikes, pedestrians, and public transit is a wasteful use of lane capacity. Good government folks question spending billions of dollars on a project that would do little or nothing to relieve one of the nation’s worst traffic bottlenecks. Another group of good government folks—mostly from Washington and Clark counties—are clamoring for a third bridge that would allow Westsiders to avoid slogging through US Highway 26 and I-5 through Portland.
Opponents of the original CRC noted that improving traffic flows crossing the Columbia on I-5 would not solve any congestion problems. Instead, they argued, the new bridge would shift the bottleneck further south to the Rose Quarter. Things have changed, and that argument will soon lose its relevance.
In particular, the Oregon Department of Transportation is in the middle of a project to widen I-5 through the Rose Quarter. The addition of lane capacity alone will do much to relieve congestion in this choke point. But, there’s more.
Along with the addition of lane capacity, the legislature directed ODOT to experiment with congestion pricing along the improved stretch—an experiment supported by Governor Brown. The money raised from congestion pricing should be used to improve and expand roads for the people paying the tolls. If the governor doesn’t want to use the funds to expand highway capacity, she owes the people of Oregon a clear vision of where she thinks it should go.
Transportation is a crucial element of economic development. With transportation improvements, trade between regions increases. With easier commutes, employment opportunities open up. Increased trade and improved employment drive economic growth and prosperity. An I-5 replacement that does nothing to improve the flow of goods and people is a waste of money. A replacement that adds capacity and reduces congestion is an investment in shared prosperity for Oregon, Washington, and the West Coast.
Eric Fruits, Ph.D. is Vice President of Research at Cascade Policy Institute and an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where he teaches courses in urban economics and regulation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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