Revolutionizing Oregon: the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan becomes law

March 24, 2016

SolarPanelsBy Francesca Varela

Nearly every day I hear news about climate change, and usually it’s not good. Just the other day I read something about how temperatures are rising more quickly than predicted; how the rate at which the seas will rise has probably been underestimated. I’ve been reading about water rationing, and superstorms; stagnant weather ridges, and marine life migrating north; shells disintegrating off the backs of sea snails, and mass extinctions rivaling the end-Cambrian. I read all these things with a sense of urgency and a sense of loss, but also with a sense of hope. Because, in the midst of these warnings, something good has emerged—a solution; one that will hopefully inspire others to follow our lead.

On March 11th, Governor Kate Brown signed the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (Senate Bill 1547) into law. The bill’s supporters included environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Oregon’s two largest utility companies, PGE and Pacific Power, who were well aware of the economic threat of coal decline and eager to prioritize clean energy.

WindFarm.jpgBy 2035, these utility companies will be completely coal-free. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is an incremental process that allows the companies to ease into things while still maintaining a sense of climactic urgency. Improving upon existing Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), the Plan mandates that the companies derive a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources—27% by 2025, 35% by 2030, 45% by 2035, landing eventually at 50% by 2040.

This increased use of renewable energy and the eventual elimination of coal will allow Oregon to reach its goal of reducing carbon emissions to 75% below 1990 levels by 2050, and with no threat to consumers. The RPS can be temporarily suspended if meeting the requirement would interfere with grid reliability. Fair rates for customers are guaranteed long-term through the dispersion of renewable energy tax credits. And, if using more renewable energy would mean a rise in price of more than 4% for customers, the companies can postpone doing so. Considering the decreasing cost of renewables, however, they likely won’t need to.

Customers can also look forward to new opportunities, like a community solar program; a co-op of sorts in which you can invest in solar projects and claim ownership of them, reducing your electric bill while also making a positive environmental and social impact. 10% of the solar power generated from these programs is intended for low-income customers.

The Plan also includes a requirement that more energy come from small, local projects, including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass. Local green energy means local green jobs, and a boost to Oregon’s economy.Powerlines

Some of this clean energy will be used to expand electric transportation, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels even further. Charging stations for electric cars, electric buses, and expanded public transportation can be expected as Pacific Power and PGE work on plans to build up our electric transportation sector.

The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan is revolutionary in its total commitment to eliminating energy from coal, but there’s still more that can be done. The Healthy Climate Bill (Senate Bill 1574)—a “cap-and-invest” plan that would fine polluting industries and use the money to fund green initiatives and to support communities threatened by environmental injustice—didn’t pass this legislative session, but the Sierra Club and its allies plan to resurrect it during the 2017 session with the hope of deepening Oregon’s commitment to a clean, just future. You can help by reaching out to your local representative and reminding them that the transition to a green economy is a high priority—and make sure to thank them for the work that has already been done on the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan.

News of Oregon’s new law has spread far and wide, making headlines in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC News, and international newspapers like The Guardian. Oregon has become a world leader in the climate movement.

Haystack_Rock_Oregon.jpgThe sooner we do away with fossil fuels the less the oceans will rise, the less the water will acidify, the fewer animals will go extinct from habitat loss. Oregon will be coal-free by 2035. Only five years after that, at least half our energy will come from renewable resources. The passage of this act shows the rest of the country—and the world—that transitioning away from fossil fuels is positive and necessary. It’s without a doubt one of the most important things we will ever do as a society. Hopefully more states and countries will pass their own initiatives. Ours is a good beginning, and, hopefully, just that—the beginning.

 

 

 

 


Investing in the Future: The Healthy Climate Bill and the Coal Transition Plan

February 4, 2016

2167696800_4dedae718d_oWhen I was a kid, teachers always gave us the same piece of environmental advice: reduce, reuse, recycle. The emphasis was always on what we could do as individuals. We could pick up litter. We could recycle cans and bottles. We could donate our old clothes. If everyone did these small things, they would add up and make a difference in the world. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, and everything would be okay.

It took me until college to question this. In fact, it was in one of my very first college classes—intro to environmental studies—that my professor brought it up. I can still remember what he said: our lifestyle decisions as consumers are important, but they also distract from larger issues. What we need is not just for individuals to change, but for the entire infrastructure of our society to change. We need movements, protests, political change. And I remember him saying something about how there was “no free lunch”, how even just sitting in that lecture hall we were taking part in the dirty energy economy, what with the lights and the heating system, and if we went to the library, or the city hall, or anywhere in town, really, we would come upon the same problem, because it wasn’t just us—it was the way things were set up.

I always thought that part was particularly unfair. coalThis isn’t our mess. None of us in that lecture, none of us who went on to graduate in 2015, are responsible for the way things have been set up. We’re the inheritors of greed and chaos. I mean, look at what they’ve left us: heartbreaking mass extinctions, an ocean full of plastic garbage, an economy dependent on polluting fossil fuels that threaten the existence of all life.

But I also saw this beautiful possibility—this vision of change, of the sustainable society we could create. This isn’t our mess, but we can be the ones to fix it.

I’m not the only one with such a vision, of course. The quest for positive change is one of the main tenets of the Sierra Club. They’ve long been champions of clean energy, environmental justice, and conservation. In a way, they’re the embodiment of that big change, that infrastructural shift that my professor was talking about. I’m honored to be interning with them, especially at this moment of climactic urgency. With the hottest year on record behind us, and all this evidence of widespread droughts, reduced snow-packs, and crazy weather events—well, climate change is progressing right before our eyes. We have a small window here in which we can prohibit catastrophic warming.

Now is the time to make those big changes, and the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club is taking action. During the 2016 legislative session, the Sierra Club is promoting two bills that work together to revitalize Oregon’s energy system.

windmillsThe Healthy Climate Bill, Senate Bill 1574, proposes a “cap and invest” system. This means that polluting industries would actually pay the true price for the environmental havoc they impose upon us, and for their disastrous contributions to climate change. The money would then be invested in the clean energy sector. We’d have reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and a proliferation of local, well-paying clean energy jobs. Not only that, but investments would be targeted towards those who, today, are most threatened by environmental injustices—low-income and rural communities, as well as communities of color.

The other bill—the Oregon Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Plan (House Bill 4036—also seeks to reduce emissions, but does so in partnership with PGE and Pacific Power, Oregon’s two largest utilities. Under this bill’s provisions, Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard would double to 50% by 2040. Though Oregon’s last coal-fired power plant will close in 2020, PGE and Pacific Power still source much of their electricity from coal-fired plants in other states, such as Montana. This plan would make them completely coal free by 2035 and enable them to transition to renewable energy projects, like community solar programs that prioritize low-income communities. New infrastructure would be created to encourage green transportation, such as charging stations for electric cars, thereby lessening our dependence on gas and oil. I mean, imagine that: driving an electric car powered by 100% solar or wind power. Or going into almost any building in the state and knowing it’s powered mostly by clean energy.

These two bills complement each solar farm. 1st pictures. September 2012 30192Dother in that they have varying timelines and methods to achieve a shared vision. This is way more than reduce-reuse-recycle. This is the big stuff; the big changes that need to happen if we want a better future. These bills make clean energy more affordable than dirty energy. They lift disadvantaged communities into positions of climate leadership. They create new jobs for local community members. And, of course, they reduce carbon emissions. Oregon could serve as a model of justice and sustainability. We could provide the rest of the country—and even the world—with the glimpse of a promising future. These bills work because they address our issues at the source. They not only fix old problems but they lead us on to better things, to a cleaner, healthier, healed future, in which the next generation can look back, smile, and say, look at what they’ve left us.

Take action today by contacting your legislators in support of these bills!

 

 

 

 


#NoFastTrack Events – Update Your Calendar!

April 28, 2015

Fast Track legislation was introduced two weeks ago and our opposition movement is growing!

Here is a list of upcoming events, please attend as many as possible! We are channeling our efforts toward Reps. Bonamici and Schrader, as neither of them have committed to a position yet. Please call their offices to express your concern over fast tracking the largest trade deal ever to be negotiated. More info at sierraclub.org/trade.

Rep. Bonamici: 503-469-6010, 202-225-0855

Rep. Schrader: 503-557-1324, 202-225-5711

5/1/15 – Sen. Wyden Town Hall at South Albany High School, Albany 1:30pm – express your disappointment in the Senator for co-sponsoring the Fast Track legislation.

5/2/15 – Sen. Wyden Town Hall at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg 2:00pm – express more disappointment in the Senator for co-sponsoring the Fast Track bill.

5/4/15 – Rally with Rep. DeFazio in Eugene.  Noon-12:30 at the Lane County Courthouse/Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza – thank Rep. DeFazio for his continued opposition to fast track and show our other Oregon Reps we stand strongly opposed to fast track.

5/4/15 – Phone bank with Sierra Club to urge members to call Rep. Bonamici and Rep. Schrader and invite to rallies. 6:15 pm, Oregon Chapter office, 1821 SE Ankeny St Portland

5/5/15 – Rally at Rep. Schrader’s office, 12:00pm 621 High St. Oregon City

5/8/15 – Rally at Rep. Bonamici’s office, 10:00am 12725 SW Millikan Way

Thanks to everyone who has taken actions and continues to do so! This is a daunting but very winnable fight!

As always, feel free to email me with any questions or concerns.

Onwards,

Morgan Gratz-Weiser, Community Outreach Coordinator Oregon Sierra Club

morgan.gratzweiser@sierraclub.org


Fast Track Introduced – What’s in it and what do we do next?

April 23, 2015

For the last few months, the Sierra Club, along with environmental and labor allies, have escalated pressure in opposition to fast track legislation. We succeeded in pushing back the introduction of fast track by a number of weeks, raising our voices to ask Senator Wyden to step away from negotiations with Senator Hatch (R-UT). However, last Thursday Sens. Hatch and Wyden co-sponsored the fast track bill, which looks conspicuously similar to the 2014 Camp-Baucus fast-track bill that died shortly after its introduction.

Now that the bill has been introduced, our opposition shifts to include the environmental analysis of the bill. First off, the bill includes the minimal protections that have been in all trade deals since 2007, with no legally binding or enforceable provisions against illegal logging, poaching and trade of endangered wildlife, or bans against shark finning or commercial whaling. According to the fast-track text, countries must “adopt and maintain measures implementing…its obligations under common environmental multilateral agreements;” however, reports indicate the United States is not on track to meet these negotiating objectives, and the bill is unenforceable anyway.

Popularized by Elizabeth Warren, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause allows for increased lawsuits by corporations over nearly any environmental or climate-related law. Read here about the U.S. company Bilcon suing Canada for $188 million because Canada rejected a proposed rock quarry mining site along the highly biodiverse and sensitive Bay of Fundy coastline.

This fast track legislation is being implemented to speed the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress, before the public can read it, and before many members of Congress have time to synthesize it. Congressional staffers are not allowed to read the text, and although the bill must be made public 60 days before the president officially enters the U.S. into the agreement, no changes will be made to the text.

So, what’s next? We must impress upon our elected officials that the people of Oregon are opposed to the flawed fast-track system of pushing secretly negotiated trade deals through Congress without appropriate oversight. Help us by making calls to Representative Bonamici and Representative Blumenauer’s offices, write a letter to the editor in your local paper, and encourage your friends and family to learn more about what fast tracking the TPP could mean for them. Information is at www.sierraclub.org/trade. We have a very real chance at defeating this legislation, but we do need as much support as possible.

Please don’t hesitate to email with inquiries and for ways to get involved! Thanks for your advocacy!

Morgan Gratz-Weiser, Community Outreach Coordinator

morgan.gratzweiser@sierraclub.org


News from the Oregon Legislature

April 23, 2015

Whew! We’ve just crossed the midpoint of the 2015 session of the Oregon Legislature, and it’s been a whirlwind of a session. Sierra Club staff have been closely tracking bills and meeting with legislators in Salem to advocate for clean, renewable energy, wildlife protection, and our state forests. So here, halfway to sine die and just after a first critical deadline for bills to have passed out of their committee of origin, it’s good time to reflect on where we stand.

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

In short, while we have had some real disappointments on Coal-to-Clean Energy and on the Elliott State Forest, there are some glimmers of good news to go along with the letdowns. Here’s a summary of some of the work we’ve been doing in our state capitol:

⇒ Coal to Clean Energy: One of our biggest priorities coming into session – and also one of the Oregon Conservation Network’s Priorities for a Healthy Oregon – was our Coal-to-Clean package. Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729 would have moved Oregon’s investor-owned electric utilities – Pacific Power and PGE – off coal by 2025 and required that the replacement power for coal was largely renewable energy like solar and wind. And even though Oregonians overwhelmingly support the idea of getting coal out of our energy mix, and even though many legislators were initially on board with the proposal, it appears that our coal-to-clean legislation will not be moving forward in 2015. We are quite disappointed with this outcome and hope to bring these concepts back in the future, as we are committed to finding the right path to reach the broader goals of transitioning off coal to clean energy.

⇒ Solar and other clean energy: Even though coal-to-clean stalled out, the Sierra Club is still working on a number of other bills related to clean energy that remain alive in the 2015 session. House Bill 2447 will extend the very successful Residential Energy Tax Credit for home solar energy. HB 2941 would help to encourage the creation of community “solar gardens” and HB 2632 would help to incentivize the creation of utility-scale solar power in the state. All of these solar energy bills are currently still moving through the legislative process.

In addition, several bills relating to limiting or putting a price on carbon were introduced this session. However, after the first committee deadline, only House Bill 3470 remains alive. This bill enforces existing state climate goals, established by the legislature in 2007, and requires DEQ to create an action plan for hitting those targets. That plan could use different strategies, including market-based mechanisms, to maximize feasible and cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

2457514213_a8e4935293_b

⇒ Elliott and North Coast State Forests: The Sierra Club played a leading role in the coalition that got the Elliott State Forest designated as an OCN priority. As a process within the Department of State Lands (DSL) plays out to determine the ultimate future of the Elliott, we were working in the legislature to set up a process by which such a solution could be implemented. But in a very disheartening turn of events, the trust land transfer program we and Rep. Tobias Read were working to establish with HB 3474 died in committee on the bill deadline day. Now we are left only with HB 3533, which would give the State Land Board and DSL license to sell off parcels of the Elliott to the highest bidder. We are still evaluating how this situation will play out, but at this point we are not optimistic that we can reach a good solution for the Elliott with this legislation.

However, we continue to work in the legislature to support some requests for general fund dollars from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to increase recreational potential and research and monitoring in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests. We and our partners in the North Coast State Forest Coalition believe that this money could help ODF provide the balanced management that Oregonians expect from these lands and move the agency away from its current timber-dependent funding sources.

⇒ Defending Wildlife: Just two weeks into the 2015 session, we saw renewed attacks on Oregon’s wildlife. House Bills 2050 and 2181 were two of the many introduced bills that would have allowed counties to opt out of a statewide ban on the practice of hunting cougars with dogs. Thankfully, those bills – along with a bill that would have prohibited the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission from including the gray wolf on the list of threatened or endangered species – were pulled from the committee hearing agenda on the deadline day. We hope we have seen the last of the bad wildlife bills in this session, but we’ll continue to keep an eye open for future mischief.

⇒ Suction Dredge Mining: One other bill we are supporting is Senate Bill 830, which would take great steps to improve the regulation of suction dredge mining in our state. Oregonians know that it is vitally important to have strong protections in place to safeguard our rivers and salmon habitat. In addition to putting a cap on the total number of suction dredge mining permits, SB 830 will place limitations on mining – both in-river and on uplands – where it would undermine Oregon’s investment in habitat restoration for salmon and other critical species.

We’ll keep plugging away in Salem, tracking the legislation on land use, water quality, toxic chemicals, other energy proposals, and who-knows-what-else. But we can’t do it without you, so stay tuned for ways to get involved and help pass good legislation to protect the Oregon we all love.


Dirty Secrets: Trade Promotion Authority and the TransPacific Partnership

March 4, 2015

Upcoming trade legislation is poised to wash away our human and environmental rights around the globe! Oregon contributes dynamically to international markets – producing technology, wine and agriculture, and manufactured goods for export. It is imperative that we improve and maintain these good-paying jobs which support our local economy and utilize higher environmental standards rather than trade them away to corporate profits and lower human and environmental rights. Help pressure our congressional representatives to oppose this dangerous and damaging legislation. Click here to take action! Keep reading for more info.

Fast Track, often referred to as Trade Promotion Authority, is a piece of legislation that acts as a structure for trade legislation to be sent pre-signed by the president to Congress for a strict up-or-down vote. No edits or amendments, and limited discussion on the floor. This becomes exceptionally dangerous when applied to agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free trade agreement between twelve countries around the Pacific Rim and comprising 29 chapters on topics including the environment, labor, investment, internet freedom, and increased energy exports, to name a few.

The Sierra Club, along with dozens of environmental, labor, and food safety organizations are deeply concerned about Fast Track, as it removes the important checks and balances system of our elected officials, and places near complete power in the hands of the executive branch, the U.S. Trade Representative, and hundreds of corporate “trade advisors”.

The TPP contains a vast array of concerning chapters, including a step backwards with Multilateral Environmental Agreements – changing language that holds signatory countries accountable to “adopt, maintain, and implement” to now  “affirm its commitment” to the regulation, and relaxation in environmental enforcement, should a party be in violation of the agreement.

Environmental damage is incurred due to a variety of clauses, including:

1) Corporations would be allowed to sue governments in private tribunals over nearly any law they allege infringes on the value of their investment, (read Elizabeth Warren’s position here)

2) the US Dept. of Energy would be required to automatically approve exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to signatory countries (including Japan, the current leader in LNG imports), therefore encouraging increased fracking and dangerous transportation,

3) Regarding global fisheries, countries “shall seek to operate a fisheries management system…that is designed to prevent overfishing and overcapacity”, however there is no mention of fisheries by-catch nor any ban on shark finning – despite many of the signatory countries being traders of shark fins, and requirement under United States law to seek broader bans on such countries, and

4) TPP countries are significant exporters of plant and wildlife products, a trade that has lead to dramatic declines in biodiversity and endangered species. Unfortunately the TPP contains extremely weak wording regarding the enforcement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

These are a few of the concerning portions of the TPP, issues that should be debated on the floor of congress and commented on by the public, not drafted behind closed doors in extreme secrecy. So – is there any hope? What can we do?

Yes – there is hope. In a group effort by the Sierra Club, Citizens Trade Campaign, and a host of environmental, health, and labor organizations we are pressuring Senator Wyden (ranking member of Senate Finance Committee), House Rep. Blumenauer, and House Rep. Bonamici to vote down Fast Track legislation and pursue responsible alternatives. And we’re making progress! Senator Wyden has delayed the introduction of Trade Promotion Authority, calling it “premature” – citing needs for increased transparency and accountability. We must keep encouraging Senator Wyden to delay agreement on this deal, and continue to work for improved environmental standards and labor regulations.

Please join us in making our voices heard – call, email, and write letters to our congressional representatives, stay tuned to the Oregon Chapter Facebook page and Twitter updates, and please reach out to stay updated on rallies and press events.

Morgan Gratz-Weiser
Community Outreach Coordinator – Oregon Chapter
morgan.gratzweiser@sierraclub.org


The Oregon Chapter in the 2015 Oregon Legislature

March 2, 2015

The 2015 session of the Oregon Legislature Session is in full swing, and Sierra Club staff are closely tracking proposed bills and meeting with legislators in Salem to advocate for clean, renewable energy, wildlife protection, and our state forests. For starters, as members of the Oregon Conservation Network, we are advocating for the Priorities for a Healthy Oregon. Here are some of the specific bills we are working on:

Oregon capitol

  • Coal to Clean Energy: One of those OCN priorities, Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729, will move Oregon’s investor-owned electric utilities – Pacific Power and PGE – off coal by 2025. The legislation will ensure that the replacement power for coal is 90% cleaner, allowing for a replacement mix that is primarily clean, renewable energy like solar and wind. Whenever possible, the bill will also give preference to local clean energy that creates jobs in and around Oregon for the replacement power. Oregonians overwhelmingly support the idea of getting coal out of our energy mix and legislators are very interested in the proposal as well. We hope to have Senate Bill 477 heard in bill co-sponsor Senator Chris Edwards’ Environment and Natural Resources committee in late March.
  • Solar Energy: The Sierra Club is working on a number of bills related to solar energy in the 2015 session. House Bill 2447 will extend the very successful Residential Energy Tax Credit. HB 2941 would help to encourage the creation of community “solar gardens” so that neighbors and communities could come together to share solar power. HB 2632 would help to incentivize the creation of utility-scale solar power in the state. HB 2745 would extend the state feed-in tariff program, and we hope to expand that legislation to make other changes to encourage the promotion of solar power in Oregon.
  • State Forests: The Sierra Club played a leading role in the coalition that got the Elliott State Forest designated as an OCN priority. As a process within the Department of State Lands and the State Land Board plays out to determine the ultimate future of the Elliott, we are working in the legislature to set up a process by which such a solution could be implemented. In addition, we are working to support some requests for general fund dollars from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to increase recreational potential and research and monitoring in the Tillamook and Clatsop State Forests. We and our partners in the North Coast State Forest Coalition believe that this money could help ODF provide the balanced management that Oregonians expect from these lands and move the agency away from its current timber-dependent funding sources.
  • Defending Wildlife: Just two weeks into the 2015 session, we saw renewed attacks on Oregon’s wildlife. House Bills 2050 and 2181 are two of the many introduced bills that would allow counties to opt out of a statewide ban on the practice of hunting cougars with dogs. Oregon voters have twice decided that such a practice is not something that should be available to the general public, though it can still be done by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to control problem cougars. Furthermore, the idea that counties could start opting out of state laws they didn’t agree with opens up doors to all kinds of mischief. We will be working hard to ensure that these bills do not pass in anything like their current form.

We are also tracking many other bills, including legislation on land use, water quality, toxic chemicals, and other energy proposals. There’s certainly no shortage of legislative activity to keep us busy in Salem, so stay tuned for more developments!


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