May 26, 2011  6:09 PM

MPAC discusses financial aspects of greenhouse gas reductions

There's little question Oregon's greenhouse gas reduction mandates are monumental. Whether they're too big for Portland-region cities to chew remains to be seen.

Members of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee discussed the targets at length Wednesday, and anxiety about the new targets was palpable.

Metro is roughly three years away from finalizing changes to its regional plans to accommodate the state's greenhouse gas reduction mandate, which says that the state's emissions must be 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; they must be 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Other statewide regulations say the Metro area emissions from cars, small trucks and SUVs must fall to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2035.

See also: State's greenhouse gas mandate has Metro, cities thinking about getting public support (April 14)

With the regional government looking at implementing regulations to steer cities toward meeting those goals, MPAC representatives, particularly those from cities, are thinking about costs.

"We face a real issue of financing," said Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey. "We know what the legislative mandate is. But I think in your thought process, there has to be some sort of 'Who is going to pay for this and how are we going to do that?'"

Metro is already testing some ideas about how to reduce emissions, particularly from transportation. The proposals range from simple (better land use planning) to controversial (limiting parking and raising parking costs) to unconventional ("Eco-driving" programs, pay-as-you-go insurance).

"In many ways, this reminds me of the Clean Water Act," said Charlotte Lehan, the chair of the Clackamas County Commission and of MPAC. "Gradually, with many people working together, we cleaned up most rivers as a point source of pollution. This greenhouse gas issue is probably our generation's most important thing to address, in terms of environmental safety."

Nobody disputed its importance. But the scope of work is daunting, Willey said.

"This was one of those good ideas that the legislature may have taken just a tad too far by setting the baseline in 1990," he said. "It's a good idea… it may be one where we have to go back to the legislature and say 'Let's do some modifications to this so we can do something that's feasible to accomplish and not overly expensive.'"

Promoting mass transit by lowering fares and expanding service, Willey said, is particularly challenging to think about. And decreased parking – and more expensive parking – in downtown Portland could hurt business, which is the source of much of TriMet's revenue through the employment tax.

"Any time we have a good idea we have to have an equal opportunity to say, how do we fund this?" Willey said. "These are great ideas, but how are we going to pay for them?"

The costs of adding bike lanes to roads also add up, Willey said. Just as the state is considering a fee for drivers of electric cars, cyclists should contribute some revenue to build and maintain infrastructure for them, he said.

"There's nothing in here that addresses how we get the bicycle community to start participating in that," he said. "That's probably threat words, but we're going to have to deal with that at some point in time. We have three feet on the side of the road for bicycle traffic adding a significant cost to the road and the cost to maintain that road."

Transportation wasn't the only focus of the discussion. Beaverton City Councilor Marc San Soucie was curious why water consumption per capita is one metric being measured by Metro in its study of greenhouse gas sources.

"There are a lot of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transport of water and conveyance of water to places," said Kim Ellis, a transportation planner for Metro and the lead staff member at Wednesday's discussion.

Such a study could play right into the fears some have expressed about the greenhouse gas mandates, that the state or Metro could be micromanaging peoples' lifestyles to the point of telling residents how much water they could use. TriMet board member Steve Clark encouraged Metro and the cities and counties in the room to build public support for meeting the requirements.

"Let's think about who our audience is and how we can communicate effectively and engage them better," he said.

Metro news reporter Nick Christensen can be reached at nick.christensen@oregonmetro.gov or 503-813-7583. Follow Metro on Twitter @oregonmetro.

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