The Multnomah County Board voted unanimously on Thursday, June 1 to commit the county to reaching its goal of 100 percent renewable energy use community-wide by 2050.
The county’s targets touch on all energy sectors and will require action at all levels: individual and community, local and state government, and businesses and utilities. Goals include reducing carbon-intensive vehicle use and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings. The county will also work with utility companies to replace fossil fuels with green energy.
County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson introduced the resolution, which was done in partnership with the City of Portland and numerous stakeholders representing community organizations, environmental groups, utility companies, and environmental justice nonprofits. Portland City Council approved a renewable energy resolution hours after the county.
The Multnomah County Board’s action came hours before President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Commissioner Vega Pederson said that despite climate policy rollbacks at the federal level, she was committed to doing everything she could at the local level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“When our federal leaders abdicate their responsibilities at the local level, we have to step in and take action,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said.
The resolution also has an equity focus and calls for pursuing policies and partnerships that include low-income residents and people of color.
Multnomah County has been a leader on climate change for years, said John Wasiutynski, director of the county's Office of Sustainability.
“We have never waited for others to take the lead on our behalf,” Wasiutynski said.
He pointed to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners and the City of Portland developed a local action plan on global warming in 2001. In 2009, the Multnomah County Board adopted the Climate Action Plan, which was reaffirmed in 2015.
These efforts have paid off, Wasiutynski said. Greenhouse gas emissions in Multnomah County are 21 percent lower than 1990 levels and 41 percent lower on a per capita basis. However, with rising seas, ocean acidification, and shrinking ice caps, the effects of climate change are felt around the globe and locally.
These are scary times we live in but our actions have not been in vain,” Wasiutynski said.
In April, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury was joined by Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, Mayor Ted Wheeler, City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, Robert Liberty of Portland State and Jeremy Clark, 12, of Portland at a packed room at the June Key Delta Center in North Portland to announce the city and county’s clean energy pledge.
“This is a pledge to our children’s future,’’ Chair Kafoury said at a press event. “One hundred percent renewables means a future with cleaner air, a stable climate, and more jobs and economic opportunity.’’
Numerous stakeholders testified at the Thursday meeting in support of the board’s action.
Deane Funk, a Portland General Electric representative, said PGE was among the first energy companies to advocate for climate legislation at the national level, and the importance of a national and international response has only grown in the last decade.
“The threat of climate change demands an international response and it is disheartening to say the least to see our country move backwards,” Funk said. “Regardless of what happens at the federal level we know that our region will continue to lead the way by finding innovative solutions that strengthen our economy while protecting our environment.”
Mia Reback, staff organizer with 350PDX, an organization building a grassroots movement to address climate change, told the board she is shocked by the climate change she could experience in her lifetime.
“To read that there is going to be, if no action is taken, a 10 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature in Oregon if I live to be as old as my grandmothers are – who are alive today – it’s horrifying and it’s shocking,” Reback said. “I’m so grateful that we’re all here together in this room saying, ‘We’re not going to let that be our future.’”