Read the original opinion piece here in The Oregonian.
In dealing with climate change, it's impossible to please everyone.
Some will view this week's new EPA ruling forcing coal-fired power plants to reduce their carbon output as too little too late, while others will feel it is an unwanted government intrusion certain to sink the economy.
Here in Portland, we can see it as a responsible next step on a climate-healing path that our city, state, and region have been following for more than two decades.
Oregon's climate leadership is why EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy came to Portland State University last week to discuss the new rules with state and local leaders, including Gov. John Kitzhaber, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Portland Mayor Charlie Hales.
Republican opposition in Congress has forced President Obama to adopt a complex atmospheric protection strategy rather than the simpler and more efficient revenue-neutral carbon tax recommended by many economists. Before this latest move, the president's strongest action to combat climate change was raising the federal fuel economy standards for cars to 54 mpg by 2025.
The new regulation's cap-and-trade provision relies on the free market to motivate states and large businesses to reduce their carbon pollution. To continue to emit, companies will need to buy or trade permits, which will become progressively more expensive and scarce. This approach, modeled on existing programs in California, British Columbia and Europe, allows polluters to shop around for the cheapest ways to reduce their emissions. Permit costs will steadily rise, providing increased incentives to discover and use novel technologies.
Portland was the first U.S. city to have a climate action plan, and it remains at the forefront of implementing atmosphere-friendly urban policies. These include linking transportation and land-use plans, cleaning water with natural features like bioswales, and aggressively reducing solid waste.
Portland's latest climate plan update strongly emphasizes equity, making sure that the fiscal and social costs of green policies don't fall disproportionately on economically disadvantaged communities.
There is also an increased focus on the economic development opportunities associated with urban sustainability. "We Build Green Cities" is a public-private initiative that helps local companies and agencies receive contracts from as far away as Kunming, China, and Canberra, Australia, to replicate our climate-friendly urban innovations. City officials from around the world learn of these opportunities through "First Stop Portland," a PSU-based non-profit that provides customized tours and urban policy matchmaking.
Despite these advances, we still have far to go. Multnomah County's CO2 output in 2012 was 11 percent below 1990's level despite a 30 percent population increase, the largest such drop in the country. But climate scientists warn that we need to remove much more CO2 — at least 80 percent by 2050 — to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. This massive decarbonization of our global economy represents perhaps the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced.
And, lest we in the Northwest feel too complacent, we need to recall that our low emissions owe as much to abundant hydropower and mild temperatures as to progressive attitudes or enlightened policies.
Hopefully, EPA's announcement will launch a wave of new technology and public policy equal to the task of transforming our nation's cities and companies into laboratories of climate-saving innovation. Even before its release, however, the ruling unleashed a torrent of conservative outrage, reminding us how difficult it is for leadership to occur at the federal level.
This is why it is so critical for residents and their leaders in Portland and the Northwest to continue to make the tough choices needed to combat climate change.
Jonathan Fink is vice president for research and strategic partnerships at Portland State University and serves on the city of Portland's Climate Action Plan Steering Committee.