by John Light

Donald Trump looks as if he is preparing to pull out of the Paris Agreement. After months of delayed and rescheduled meetings on the topic, the administration has suggested it will make its official decision this week about whether or not to stay in the global pact, which encourages almost 200 nations to cut their climate-change causing emissions. Reports indicate that things aren’t looking good for team “stay.”

Lead by Steve Bannon, White House counsel Don McGahn and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, a faction of Trumpworld has successfully made the case to the president that the US should quit the deal, according to reports. If the US stays in the pact but pursues Trump’s agenda of fossil-fuel industry boosterism, the US could be in hot water legally, they argue.

President Barack Obama promised to cut US emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels. Because Trump is unwinding many of Obama’s climate change-related programs, emissions are likely to fall under Trump by only 14 percent, according to an analysis by the Rhodium Group. McGahn and other anti-Paris advisers argue that under the agreement, the US could somehow face legal action if it does not meet Obama’s promises.

But nearly all diplomats and legal scholars who worked on the deal believe that’s not correct. The Paris Agreement is not legally binding. Over the last week, lawyers and the architects of the deal have parsed its language once more and concluded that the US can revise its emissions-cutting promise at any time, upward or downward, and nothing will happen.

The debate is centered around one line in article 4.11 of the agreement. It states that “a party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.”

The consensus is, resoundingly, that these words do not require emissions targets to increase. “It came up,” Todd Stern, Obama’s chief climate diplomat, told Vox’s David Roberts. “It was discussed and debated. There were countries that were saying they wanted a legal prohibition of any downward revision of an NDC. We thought that was a bad idea. It would cause any number of countries to lowball their target out of fear of getting stuck.”

The authors of the deal intentionally left out punishments for a nation that decided to be less ambitious. Indeed, this was one of scientists and activists’ chief criticisms of the agreement, which they denounced as toothless.

Other climate law scholars agree with Stern. “Withdrawal of the Clean Power Plan, adoption of an alternative domestic strategy or failure to achieve the US emissions reduction target would not violate the agreement,” wrote Susan Biniaz, a former State Department adviser, and Daniel Bodansky, a law professor at Arizona State University, in a recent analysis of legal issues related to the Paris Agreement. In other words, Columbia University Law Professor Michael Burger summarizes, “remaining in the Paris Agreement does not increase litigation risk for the Trump administration as it pursues its deregulatory agenda.” Trump and his deputies can do whatever they want with regard to the US’ climate change-causing emissions without facing legal ramifications.

Last Thursday, Laurence Tubiana, a French diplomat who worked on the agreement, provided what sounded like a dissenting voice to E&E News, arguing that under the deal a country is not allowed to decrease its commitment. “The sense of the direction is really progress; it’s not going backwards,” she said. But she later argued that her comments had been misinterpreted. “To be super clear: US gov CAN legally downsize NDC but politically they should not,” she tweeted. An “NDC” is a nationally determined contribution, that’s the Paris Agreement’s term for a nation’s promise under the agreement.

Foreign leaders, corporations, investors and activists have been pushing hard to keep the Trump administration in the pact by arguing that the US has nothing to lose by staying.

It’s unclear, however, if the administration is willing to listen.

The president’s advisers will meet tomorrow afternoon to come to a final decision about the Paris Agreement. Someone close to Ivanka Trump leaked that the president’s daughter, a proponent of staying in the deal, would meet one-on-one with Scott Pruitt before the larger meeting. The implication in Axios reporter Jonathan Swan’s piece about the leak is that Ivanka hopes to change the EPA administrator’s mind. Her desire to keep the US in the agreement is shared by a number of Trump advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn and military leaders including national security adviser H.R. MacMaster.

We may not have to wait long to see who wins out. The administration has suggested that a decision may come by the end of Tuesday — after the strategy session — or later this week.


Trump’s Bogus Reason for Bailing on the Paris Agreement is republished from  Common Dreams under Creative Commons attribution-share alike license CC BY-SA 4.0.  John Light is a reporter and digital producer for the Bill Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He’s a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.

Glacier-Less National Park? Climate Change Melting Iconic Formations

by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams staff writer

Climate change is melting the glaciers in iconic Glacier National Park, according to scientists, who warn that the majestic natural formations could disappear entirely within our lifetime.

The park, which celebrated its 107th anniversary on Thursday, boasted 150 glaciers in the late 19th century; today, only 26 meet the 25-acre threshold to be considered glaciers.

That’s according to U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) data released Wednesday, which finds that as global temperatures have increased, the park’s major “named” glaciers have shrunk by an average of 39 percent—and some by as much as 85 percent—since 1966. While the loss in Montana “is more severe than some other places in the U.S., it is in line with trends that have been happening on a global scale,” said Portland State University geologist Andrew G. Fountain, who partnered with the USGS on the multi-year study.

In addition to decimating Glacier’s namesake attractions, “[t]he park-wide loss of ice can have ecological effects on aquatic species by changing stream water volume, water temperature, and run-off timing in the higher elevations of the park,” said lead USGS scientist Dr. Daniel Fagre.

What’s more, the Guardian reported, “[t]he disappearance of glaciers in Montana is part of a broader loss that will see all glaciers […] largely vanish from the lower 48 states of America by the mid point of the century,” according to Farge.

“It’s inevitable that we will lose them all over the next few decades,” Farge told the Guardian. “The Colorado glaciers started melting before Montana’s and while there are larger glaciers in the Pacific northwest that will hold on longer, the number vanishing will steadily grow until none are left.”

Glacier-Less National Park originally appeared at Common Dreams and is licensed under Creative Commons attribution-share alike license CC BY-SA 3.0 U.S.


Despite the anticipated reductions due to implementation of Oregon’s RPS and other policies, the state’s forecast is not expected to come within striking distance of either the statutorily mandated 2020 and 2050 emission reduction goals, or the 2035 interim goal that the Commission proposed in our last report.

Executive Summary

This Oregon Global Warming Commission (OGWC) 2017 Biennial Report to the Legislature contains five somewhat distinct sections covering a wide range of the topics that the OGWC is statutorily directed to track and evaluate. Some sections, like providing the most current available greenhouse gas inventory data and recently updated emission projection, are topics that the Commission has covered in detail in previous reports. Others, notably a discussion of forest carbon accounting in Oregon, represent new or updated work by the Commission that remains ongoing at the time that this report is being published. The key takeaways and recommendations from each of these sections are summarized below.

Oregon’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: In-Boundary Inventory Update

Source: ODOT.

1979-2015 VMT (Variant on Figure 4 in OGWC Annual Report, which only shows 1990-2015)

Key Takeaway: Rising transportation emissions are driving increases in statewide emissions.

As the updated greenhouse gas inventory data clearly indicate, Oregon’s emissions had been declining or holding relatively steady through 2014 but recorded a non-trivial increase between 2014 and 2015. The majority of this increase (60%) was due to increased emissions from the transportation sector, specifically the use of gasoline and diesel. The reversal of the recent trend in emissions declines, both in the transportation sector and statewide, likely means that Oregon will not meet its 2020 emission reduction goal. More action is needed, particularly in the transportation sector, if the state is to meet our longer-term GHG reduction goals.

In the 2017 session, the Oregon Legislature has an opportunity in the context of discussing a transportation funding package to prioritize policies and programs that will make material differences in the GHG emissions from transportation, and, by extension, the state’s ability to meet its legislatively adopted reduction goals.
The Commission recommends that the 2017 Legislature, in addressing Oregon’s overall transportation and transportation funding needs, use the occasion to devise and adopt measures that will bring transportation GHG emissions under control and aligned with Oregon’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals.

Oregon’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Projection

Key Takeaway: Oregon’s GHG goals are not likely to be met with existing and planned actions.

The new forecast clearly shows the expected impacts of legislation from 2016 which extended the renewable portfolio standard and implemented a coal import ban that comes into effect in 2030. We appear to be on track to miss our 2020 goal by just under 11 million MTCO2e. In 2035, we project we will miss the Commission’s adopted interim goal by just under 22 million MTCO2e.

Forest Carbon Accounting in Oregon

Key Takeaways and Recommendations for the Oregon Legislature: The Commission recommends that the Legislature defer enacting new forest management policies that would significantly affect carbon balances in Oregon’s forests until the Commission’s Forest Carbon Accounting Project is complete and can inform such policies.

Oregon’s forests sequester very large quantities of carbon, presenting both risks (of release) and opportunities (for greater capture and containment). Tools for quantifying amounts and tracking flows and fluctuations – due to normal forest function, to climate change-induced effects, and to human intervention – are evolving but incomplete.

There are three observations that argue for paying new and urgent attention to tracking forest carbon fluctuations (flux):

  1. Oregon forests contain on the order of 3 BILLION tons of carbon (roughly equal to 9.7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent), variously in standing timber and vegetation, standing and fallen dead trees, and soils.
  2. In the two reference periods (2001-05, and 2011-15) identified by the OGWC Forest Carbon Task Force and involved experts, average CO2e emissions from wildfire averaged between 1.5 and 4 million tons (mmT) annually. We are unable to establish yet if this can be considered excessive, or normal, or somewhere in between. We find it difficult, in fact, to define and identify a normative period. Absent additional information and analysis, we hesitate to assert that this is a significant, or non-significant, addition to Oregon’s + 60 mmT overall emissions inventory, especially after it is netted against carbon taken up by and sequestered in growing trees? We also need to better understand the flux effects of human interventions in the forests, whether for timber harvest, forest health (thinnings), forest biomass-to-energy or other purposes.
  3. When we have reliable inventory and flux numbers, we will still need to anticipate how they may evolve as climate change increasingly affects Oregon’s forests? [sic] What does this suggest about modifying forest practices going forward? What does it suggest about human interventions in forests, whether to harvest for lumber or biomass-to-energy feedstock, or to address forest health concerns resulting from historical and prevailing practices (fire suppression; clear-cutting)? If forest health considerations indicate removal of overgrowth and/or controlled fire as remediation, what are the implications for both forest carbon accounts and carbon reduction options in other sectors?

Fixing State Climate Policymaking

Key Takeaways and Recommendations for the Oregon Legislature: the State’s climate policymaking machinery is not measuring up to the task of achieving GHG reduction goals and preparing the state for the effects of climate change.

This failure is especially noteworthy for tasks not being informed by rigorous cost/benefit analysis, guided by agency assignments and benchmarks, and tracked for performance.

The Commission recommends that the Legislature direct agencies to collaborate with the Commission to set assignments (from the Commission’s Roadmap) and benchmarks, and to report annually to the Commission on progress or lack of progress, and reasons why.
The Commission further recommends that the Legislature provide the Commission with modest but sufficient resources – staff and budget – to enable it to discharge its responsibilities in a timely and efficient way, including its analysis, communications and tracking functions.

Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Preparation

Key Takeaways: Oregon is warming and the consequences are, and will be, notable. Adaptation is necessary, as mitigation alone will not prevent serious impacts. Oregon must do more to adapt to climate changes already underway.

Oregon at its peril remains unprepared for the health, flooding, drought, fire and ecosystem damages that climate change is likely to bring. As noted in the Third Assessment Report from the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute (OCCRI), some Oregon agencies have begun work to prepare for the future effects of climate change. Despite efforts at a few select agencies, there remains no statewide strategy for identifying adaptation and preparation needs or tracking progress toward meeting those needs. At the State level the only effort to look broadly across all agencies’ responsibilities took place in 2010 and needs updating, particularly in light of the accumulated analysis and findings by OCCRI and other climate scientists.

Oregon’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: In-Boundary Inventory Update

Key Takeaway: Rising Transportation Emissions

As the data summarized below clearly indicate, Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions had been declining or holding relatively steady through 2014 but recorded a non-trivial increase between 2014 and 2015. The majority of this increase (60%) was due to increased emissions from the transportation sector, specifically the use of gasoline and diesel. [FN5] The reversal of the recent trend in emissions declines, both in the transportation sector and statewide, likely means that Oregon will not meet its 2020 emission reduction goal (more on the GHG forecast below).

[FN5: Most of the balance of the increase was in residential/commercial emissions, where action taken by the 2016 legislative session to back out coal-by-wire electricity imports and increase the Renewable Portfolio Standard should result in long-term decreased sector emissions. There is no parallel driver to reduce transportation emissions.]

More action is needed, particularly in the transportation sector, if the state is to meet our longer-term GHG reduction goals. In the 2017 session, the Oregon Legislature has an opportunity in the context of discussing a transportation funding package to prioritize policies and programs that will make material differences in the GHG emissions from transportation, and, by extension, the state’s ability to meet its legislatively adopted reduction goals.

The Commission recommends that the 2017 Legislature, in addressing Oregon’s overall transportation and transportation funding needs, use the occasion to devise and adopt measures that will bring transportation GHG emissions under control and aligned with Oregon’s GHG reduction goals.

Oregonians contribute to greenhouse gas emissions in a variety of ways, spanning nearly all of the activities that we engage in. Having a solid understanding of these emissions, including those that occur both in-state and out-of-state and from both production and consumption, is the first step to analyzing what sorts of actions might be required for us to meet our long-term emission reduction goals.

Prior to 2010, Oregon’s GHG inventory was constructed in a “top-down” fashion, using an inventory tool published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Beginning in 2010, Oregon’s largest emitters of GHGs began reporting their emissions to the Oregon DEQ as part of the mandatory GHG reporting program. In 2013, the Oregon Departments of Environmental Quality, Energy, and Transportation produced a technical report which utilized both the “top- down” method and the reported data, and provided a greenhouse gas inventory using multiple emission accounting methodologies.

The report analyzed data up to the year 2010 and described three inventories: in-boundary emissions, which are those that occur within Oregon’s borders plus emissions associated with the use of electricity within Oregon; consumption-based emissions, which are those global emissions associated with satisfying Oregon’s consumption of goods and services, including energy; and expanded transportation sector emissions, which evaluated the full life-cycle emissions from fuel use by ground and commercial vehicles, freight movement of in-bound goods, and air passenger travel. The 2015 Oregon Global Warming Commission (OGWC) Biennial Report to the Legislature contained the first update to these inventories.

This 2017 OGWC Biennial Report to the Legislature provides an update to the in-boundary emissions inventory through 2015. Although EPA’s inventory tool only currently contains data through 2013, Oregon DEQ is able to construct a “hybrid” inventory through 2015 using the most recently reported GHG data that it collects along with slightly older GHG data for other sectors available through the EPA’s tool. The data that comprise the in-boundary inventory are contained in the Appendix to this Report.

In-Boundary Emissions Inventory

Inventory Overview

Oregon’s in‐boundary inventory estimates greenhouse gas emissions that occur within the State’s jurisdictional boundary and those that are associated with the generation of electricity used by Oregonians within that boundary. This inventory includes emissions from the combustion of fuel used in Oregon, the processing and disposal of waste and other materials, the generation and transmission of electricity used in Oregon, agricultural and industrial operations, and a variety of other processes. Most of these emissions occur within the State, though a substantial share of the electricity used by Oregonians is generated out of state, and the emissions from this out of state generation are included in this inventory. Likewise, emissions from electricity generation occurring in Oregon that is used out of state are presented separately and not included in the statewide emission totals of this inventory.

Total Emissions

Following is a discussion of the 2015 inventory, how it compares with prior years, and how the estimates of prior year emissions have changed slightly since the last inventory. [FN8] Key economic sectors and their trends are presented, followed by an examination of those sectors in greater detail. Additional information and data on sources of emissions is available in the Appendix. In addition, the Appendix contains data on per capita emissions and the carbon intensity of Oregon’s economy over time.

[FN8: We endeavor to work with state agencies to reduce the time to 1-2 years between when raw data is reported and when the updated state inventory is available.]

Table 1: Oregon Emissions by Sector, 1990-2015 (Million MT CO2e)

1990      1995      2000      2005      2010      2011      2012      2013    2014    2015

Transportation 21.0 22.6 24.4 24.7 23.2 22.3 22.3 21.3 21.4 23.2
Residential & Commercial 16.6 19.9 23.1 22.0 23.3 22.5 20.8 22.0 21.4 22.2
Industrial 13.9 16.9 18.0 13.7 12.3 12.2 11.5 11.9 12.4 12.8
Agriculture 4.9 5.5 5.3 5.7 5.2 5.5 5.5 5.2 5.2 5.2
Total 56.4 64.9 70.7 66.2 63.9 62.4 60.2 60.3 60.3 63.4

 Table 1 summarizes greenhouse gas emissions by economic sectors since 1990.

Transportation remains the largest contributor to the State’s in‐boundary emissions. Residential and commercial activity continues to be the second largest contributor. The industrial sector is the third largest contributor, with about half as much emissions as the transportation or the residential and commercial sectors. Finally, agricultural activity is a distant fourth. Overall, emissions declined approximately 15 percent between 2000 and 2014, but increased by 5% in just one year (between 2014 and 2015). A more detailed discussion of this increase is included below and in the sector-specific sections on the pages that follow.

Figure 2: Oregon Emissions by Sector, 1990-2015 (Million Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent)

  Figure 2 illustrates how the state’s emissions have changed in each economic sector since 1990. Emissions from agriculture have been relatively constant, at slightly above 5 million MTCO2e each year. The transportation sector has failed to show needed emissions reductions, remaining mostly flat since 1990 at just above 20 million MTCO2e, with slight declines in recent years largely erased by increased emissions in 2015. The residential and commercial sector grew through the 1990s, in part due to the retirement of GHG free Trojan Nuclear Plant, but has since declined to approximately 1993 emission levels, likely due to the drop in emissions associated with electricity use over that time. However, similar to the transportation sector, residential and commercial sector emissions increased in 2015 due primarily to increased emissions from electricity use. The industrial sector’s emissions rose gradually through the 1990s to a peak in 1999 of 19.3 million MTCO2e, and declined most years since then, and were 12.8 million MTCO2e in 2015.

Transportation Sector Emissions

Emissions attributed to transportation are primarily from fuel used by on-road vehicles, including passenger cars and trucks, as well as freight and commercial vehicles. This sector also includes aviation fuel and off-road transportation such as farm vehicles, locomotives, and boats.

Figure 3: Oregon Emissions from Transportation Fuel Use (Million Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent)

Figure 3 illustrates how the state’s emissions from transportation fuel have changed since 1990 by the relative contribution of each fuel type. Non-CO2 gases include methane and nitrous oxide that are byproducts of fuel combustion and fluorinated gases with high global warming potential from air conditioning and other auxiliary systems on vehicles. The other fuels category includes propane, natural gas, lubricant emissions and electricity. Aviation fuels include kerosene jet fuel, aviation-grade gasoline, and naphtha jet fuel. Diesel & residuals include all distillate and residual fuels used for transportation.

Total emissions from transportation have fluctuated since 1990 rather than declining consistent with Oregon’s goals. From 2007 to 2014, emissions from transportation were either relatively flat or declining. In 2015, there was a noticeable uptick in emissions from motor gasoline and diesel use which caused emissions from the sector to increase by 1.8 million MTCO2e, an 8 percent increase between 2014 and 2015. It is possible that this is a reflection of the economy rebounding from the recession, and the corresponding increase in driving and purchases of goods. The increase is also likely driven in part by increasing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) which saw a dramatic spike in 2015 compared to 2014 (See Figure 4). [FN9 Note: This chart only shows vehicle miles traveled on Oregon highways and excludes VMT on other types of roads because the rest of the data for 2015 was not available at the time of writing.]

Figure 4: Statewide Highway Vehicle Miles Traveled (Billion)

Source: Oregon Department of Transportation,








Residential and Commercial Emissions

Emissions from residential and commercial activities come primarily from generation of electricity and natural gas combustion to meet the energy demand from this sector. Other sources of emissions from this sector include small amounts of petroleum fuels burned primarily for heating, decomposition of waste in landfills, waste incineration, wastewater treatment, fugitive emissions associated with the distribution of natural gas, and from the fertilization of landscaped areas. Fluorinated gases from refrigerants, aerosols, and fire protection are also a small but increasing source of emissions from this sector.

Figure 5 illustrates how the state’s emissions from electricity, natural gas, and petroleum use in residential and commercial activities have changed since 1990. Emissions from residential and commercial electricity use have followed a similar trend during this period, with residential use consistently between one and two million MTCO2e higher than commercial use each year.

Annual variation in weather influences both electricity demand and the supply of renewable energy from wind and hydroelectric sources. Emissions associated with natural gas direct use in residential and commercial applications have increased steadily since 1990 with the exception of 2012.

The annual emissions intensity of Oregon’s electricity is influenced by weather and hydrological conditions that affect hydroelectric generation. The less power that is available from dams, the more electricity Oregon utilities must acquire from other sources, much of which is generated with fossil fuels. So, changes in annual emissions from various uses within each sector may have as much or more to do with annual differences in the emissions intensity of Oregon’s electricity as with changes in demand. Emissions associated with electricity use rose during the 1990s but have been on a downward trend in recent years, although the last few years have seen flat or increasing emissions from electricity.

Figure 5 illustrates how the state’s emissions from electricity, natural gas, and petroleum use in residential and commercial activities have changed since 1990.









Industrial Emissions

Similar to residential and commercial activities, emissions from the industrial sector come primarily from electricity generation and natural gas combustion. Emissions from petroleum combustion have declined since the late 1990s largely because many facilities transitioned from distillate fuels to natural gas and from structural changes in Oregon’s industrial base. Emissions from coal combustion are nominal as there are very few industrial facilities in Oregon using coal onsite.

Figure 6: Oregon Emissions from Industrial Processes and Fuel Use (Million Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent)

 Certain industries emit greenhouse gases from processes other than fuel combustion. In Oregon, these industrial processes are chiefly cement manufacturing, pulp and paper manufacturing, and semiconductor manufacturing. Emissions from these processes collectively account for approximately 2.8 million MTCO2e in 2015.


Agriculture Emissions

Agricultural activities have consistently accounted for approximately 5 million MTCO2e since the mid-1990s. In contrast to other sectors, most of these greenhouse gas emissions are from methane and nitrous oxide rather than carbon dioxide. Slightly more than 2 million MTCO2e is from methane that results from enteric fermentation (i.e. digestion of feed from livestock).

About 2 million MTCO2e is from nitrous oxide, estimated from nitrogen-based fertilizers used for soil management. Methane and nitrous oxide from management of livestock manure have accounted for roughly 0.5 million MTCO2e since 2000. Other agricultural sources of emissions, including urea fertilization, liming of soils, and residue burning, produce less than 0.2 million MTCO2e.

The policy recommendations section from the 2017 Oregon Global Warming Commission Biennial Report to the Legislature:

Fixing State Climate Policymaking

Key Takeaways and Recommendations for the Oregon Legislature

The State’s climate policymaking machinery is not measuring up to the task of achieving GHG reduction goals and preparing the state for the effects of climate change. This failure is especially noteworthy for tasks not being informed by rigorous cost/benefit analysis, guided by agency assignments and benchmarks, and tracked for performance.

The Commission recommends that the Legislature direct agencies to collaborate with the Commission to set assignments (from the Commission’s Roadmap) and benchmarks, and to report annually to the Commission on progress or lack of progress, and reasons why.

The Commission further recommends that the Legislature provide the Commission with modest but sufficient resources – staff and budget – to enable it to discharge its responsibilities in a timely and efficient way, including its analysis, communications and tracking functions.

Statement of the Problem

Oregon ought to be a national leader in advancing sound climate policy, and in many respects it is – in energy efficiency, renewables deployment, and urban transportation. These interim successes make the failures and blank spots more galling and less forgivable.

While individual agencies have taken up both emissions reduction and adaptation issues episodically, the State has no overall climate change adaptation/preparation strategy, action plan or investment criteria.

In 2016 Oregon made decided progress in addressing electric utility greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, [FN27] but continued diligence is required to ensure our utilities are not replacing their reliance on one fossil fuel – coal – with overreliance on another – gas – to a degree that would ensure failure to meet Oregon’s GHG goals. However, in the near- and mid-term, utilities face a need for resources that provide firm, on-peak energy. The challenge for utilities in pursuit of the state’s low-carbon future is the current limited availability of non-emitting or low-carbon resources and technologies such as energy storage to meet this need in a least cost and least risk manner.

[FN27 SB 1547, passed in the short 2016 session, commits PGE and [Pacificorps] to eliminating coal-generated electricity from Oregon’s mix by not later than 2035 (and mostly by 2030), and increases the State Renewable Portfolio Standard for these utilities in steps to 50% by 2040.]

Oregon has limited State funding for the critical elements of transportation greenhouse gas reduction: electric vehicles incentives and transit/bike/pedestrian infrastructure, equipment and operations.[FN28]

[FN28 Per ORS 366.514, 1% of annual gas tax revenues are dedicated to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.]

Oregon has insufficient understanding of the carbon contributions – credits and debits – of our forests29 and agricultural lands and activities.

[FN29: In 2016 the OGWC undertook to develop a basis for carbon accounting in Oregon’s forests, and that work proceeds, but slowly, reflecting again the absence of resources to proceed with more dispatch.]

Oregon doesn’t keep systematic track of, or seek to manage, consumption-associated emissions (e.g., waste management).

Oregon has no integrated state GHG policy on non-carbon/methane GHG’s (e.g., CFC’s, Ozone, N2O).

Oregon does not have a comprehensive current strategy for adapting to and preparing for the accumulating and already visible effects of climate change. Individual agencies and some communities have acted in this critical area, but their actions are isolated and often seriously dated.[FN30]

[FN30: In 2010 Oregon State agencies undertook a planning exercise that resulted in a published Framework for Climate Adaptation. There has been no further cross-agency work since; neither has there been any lookback review of whether any of the recommendations were acted upon, and with what outcomes.]

Oregon doesn’t have a cost- and consequences-driven agenda of the most effective GHG abatement measures apart from an extremely modest [FN31] and dated analysis. When legislators ask if we’re doing what’s cost-effective first, we answer formulaically that energy efficiency is our priority (but even that’s misleading since it’s true primarily for electric and gas utilities, and not for other critical sectors such as transportation).

[FN31: Oregon spent $50K of federal recession grant money on a “McKinsey” curve analysis [cost to reduce pollution] that left much to be desired when it was current, a condition it left behind years ago.]

The Oregon Global Warming Commission was established by the 2007 Legislature and empaneled by Governor Kulongoski in 2008. The Legislature gave the Commission broad statutory responsibilities [FN32] but no authority and no operating budget. While the statute directed all State agencies to “support” the work of the Commission, that support is always subject to existing agency priorities for staff and budget. As a practical matter, the OGWC has had to rely on its own sparse resources, principally volunteer experts and funding raised from foundations.

[FN32: 32 “The Oregon Global Warming Commission shall recommend ways to coordinate state and local efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon consistent with the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals established by section 2 of this 2007 Act and shall recommend efforts to help Oregon prepare for the effects of global warming. In furtherance of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals established by section 2 of this 2007 Act, the Oregon Global Warming Commission may recommend statutory and administrative changes, policy measures and other recommendations to be carried out by state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations or residents. In developing its recommendations, the commission shall consider economic, environmental, health and social costs, and the risks and benefits of alternative strategies, including least-cost options. The commission shall solicit and consider public comment relating to statutory, administrative or policy recommendations.”]

These limitations notwithstanding, the Commission has provided significant value added to the State in numerous ways in its first eight years or so, often by acting as a stakeholder in prompting and shaping State agency work. At the end of this section we have provided a short list of the more important contributions made by the Commission.

Remedy: Agency Accountability for Climate Action

This state of affairs has many causes which need not be belabored here. The remedy could be some combination of comprehensive enforceable emissions standards, and/or a cap-and-trade mechanism or carbon tax. In addition, but especially in the absence of any of these, there should be assignments to State agencies of principal responsibility for implementing aspects of the OGWC Roadmap, together with intermediate progress benchmarks and a reporting process that includes reasons for making or missing benchmarks. Reporting is not the same as directing; there need be no displacement of existing board and commission authority, still less of legislative oversight, which would be better informed with the fruit of the reporting.

This would, however, require a collecting-and-evaluation function that could be housed within a staffed OGWC that is authorized to negotiate benchmarks with agencies and require annual progress reporting. Initially working from the Commission’s 2010 “Roadmap to 2020” (and revising as necessary), and with legislatively-adopted State emissions reduction goals [FN33] and adaptation/preparation needs, the Commission would:

  1. consult with the State agencies in assigning primary responsibility for specific Roadmap [FN34] recommendations (and climate change adaptation/preparation recommendations, when completed); jointly with agencies, develop benchmarks where appropriate, and assign;
  2. receive annual or biennial reports from the responsible agencies on progress on recommendations, or failure to make progress, and reasons for each;
  3. evaluate these reports against goals and needs, and integrate commission findings into its Biennial Report to the Legislature in advance of each long

[FN33: The 2007 Legislature adopted three emissions reduction goals: begin lowering emissions not later than 2010; be 10% below 1990 levels by 2020; and be at least 75% below 1990 levels by 2050. The OGWC subsequently recommended an interim goal: approximately 40% below 1990 levels by 2035.]

[FN34: “Interim Roadmap to 2020” Recommendations adopted by the OGWC October 28, 2010 and submitted to the Legislature as the Commission’s 2011 Biennial Report.]

The Commission could request (but not require) similar reports from other parties (e.g., cities; Metropolitan Planning Organizations), following where recommendations lead.

The Commission would have no authority to direct State agencies, intervene between the agency and its governing board or commission, or compel any action. The authority would only be to assign responsibilities and receive annual progress reports. Since agency reasons for failure to make progress are often lack of resources or authority, this process is as likely to provide support for an agency as to be critical of its progress while informing the Legislature of needs for implementation resources and tools.

Remedy: An OGWC Operating Budget and Resources

The Commission’s ability to evaluate the work of the agencies, and to consolidate the information into a form usable by the Legislature and Governor, is close to zero today. The Commission’s ability to pursue a substantive agenda – for example, the Forestry Carbon Accounting project now underway – is challenging, requiring almost entire reliance on the availability of volunteered expertise and without funding to support even minimal professional analysis. In particular, the Commission’s inability to apply systematic cost/benefit analysis to the range of emissions reduction strategies and adaptation planning choices available to the state is costly and crippling.

The Commission is (ably) supported by ODOE at a 1/3 FTE level when there is not a pre-empting demand for that person’s time and expertise. [FN35 The Commission has no independent funding to contract for technical expertise, and no budget for communications [FN36] or citizen involvement.

The 2017 Legislature could elect to provide a small budget for minimal staff support (an Executive Director and a staff support position) and for a level of technical analytic support sufficient to review agency reports and perform independent analysis (e.g., of the economic feasibility and cost-efficiency of alternative approaches to GHG abatement).

[FN35 For example, for much of 2016 OGWC’s staff support was seconded to ODEQ to assist in producing a “carbon market mechanism” report required of ODEQ by the Legislature. The task was aligned with the work of the OGWC, but necessarily required deferral of elements of the OGWC’s own chosen agenda.]

[FN36: The OGWC web site was designed and constructed with private foundation funding solicited by the Commission. It has no funds to maintain even site security, and still less to use the site to actively engage Oregonians in State climate policymaking or planning, or provide access to means for Oregonians to reduce their carbon footprint or prepare for the effects of climate change.]

Summing Up
  • Oregon’s GHG emissions are not under control, and both GHG abatement and preparation for impending climate change need systematic, not random and opportunistic, attention.
  • Not all, or even the largest part, of Oregon’s GHG emissions are from utilities. The largest, and fastest growing such emissions are from transportation. Other sources (forests; agriculture) are unattended. A separate, cross-cutting function begs to be performed.
  • The Legislature and Governor need systematic, carefully evaluated reporting from State agencies and the Commission on where progress is being made (and why), and where it is not (and needs attention from policymakers). They need to be provided this information in context, so they can distinguish between the immediate and the important, understand what their policy choices, and be informed of the associated costs and consequences as they consider different.

The Oregon Global Warming Commission needs at least the modest level of budget and staff support that would enable it to discharge the very broad range of responsibilities it has been assigned by the Oregon Legislature.

As the planet’s fossil-fuel-induced fever continues to climb, there is a terrible temptation to think that there is an easy, painless swap to be made, where humanity will turn in its tools and techniques for deploying filthy fossil fuels and pick up, in its stead, the ability to use clean, renewable energy instead, without skipping a beat.

There’s just one problem: it’s not even close to true. On a planet where fossil fuels have allowed and promoted a steep population explosion to some 7.5 billion humans — and where humanity is crowding out all other species and consuming the majority of all Earth’s primary resources — we are going to have to come face to face with the fact that the easy cliché that we are “addicted” to fossil fuels understates the problem by at least several orders of magnitude.

Calling our relationship to fossil fuels “addiction” invites a catastrophically delusional response, because when we hear “addiction” we are triggered into a Pavlovian response and we immediately think about addiction to drugs, rather than to things that we depend on as much as individual as our society currently depends on fossil fuels — such as, say, food and water.

A recent editorial (below) makes the awful point in a single paragraph: “Coal accounts for about 26 percent of the electricity generating capacity in our country — and about 160,000 jobs. Solar energy accounts for just 2 percent of our power generation — and 374,000 jobs.”  These are the same sorts of figures that were being presented as if they were good news by Dr. Naomi Oreskes, a scholar who has done heroic work on the movement to deny and suppress climate reality.

In this post-literate age, we seem to have lost the ability to reason effectively about the implications of our choices. We see movies that claim, without reservation, that all that is needed is political will and that the technical problems are all solved:

The good news is that climate change can be solved today with readily available technologies and sustainability measures. It will take significant investments on the part of governments and businesses, but that investment will be a small fraction of the price we would have to pay for increasing natural disasters and other climate impacts. New research has shown that using currently available technologies, we can meet all of our energy needs for heating, electricity, and transportation through 100% clean renewable sources by mid-century. We can get on track by 2020, when the Paris Agreements enters into force by reducing pollution through a price on carbon and protecting our forest and ocean ecosystems. Learn more about the array of solutions to solve climate change.

The link in that quote above — which is taken from the “The Solutions” page on the website for “Before the Flood,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie — goes to an article from the November 2009 issue of Scientific American.

In that month, global atmospheric CO2 levels were 386.02 parts per million. Just seven years later, in November 2016 — an auspicious month for sure — global CO2 levels were 403.53 parts per million, reflecting that CO2 emissions are not just increasing, but are increasing at an increasing rate.

Atmospheric CO2: Source


So while the data are that the average annual increase in global CO2 levels since 2005 have been 2.11 ppm/year, in the seven years since the optimistic article in Scientific American cited on the “Before the Flood” website, we have seen annual CO2 increases of 2.79 ppm/year.

That’s why it’s so important that we understand what it means that it takes so many more people working to produce a tiny fraction of the power we are able to get from coal — it means that, regardless of how you do the accounting and how you allot the subsidies, clean power that doesn’t destroy your planet is one hell of a lot more costly to gather and harness than the power that comes from fossil fuels.

This isn’t an argument for fossil fuels, but it’s an argument for rationality about what it means for well-fed professionals in advanced countries — the kind of people who need gyms and fitness clubs to deal with the excesses of diet and sedentary lifestyle — to insist that we can simply swap our filthy fossil fuel habits for clean, green renewables.

Let’s Face It: The Coal Industry Is a Job Killer

By Basav Sen April 26, 2017

Wind and solar could create many, many more jobs than coal — especially if the government stops propping it up.

When Donald Trump announced he was rolling back the Obama administration’s signature climate rules this spring, he invited coal miners to share the limelight with him. He promised this would end the so-called “war on coal” and bring mining jobs back to coal country.

He was dead wrong on both counts.

Trump has blamed the prior administration’s Clean Power Plan for the loss of coal jobs. But there’s an obvious problem with this claim: The plan hasn’t even gone into effect! Repealing it will do nothing to reverse the worldwide economic and technological forces driving the decline of the coal industry.

And the problem is global. As concern rises over carbon dioxide, more and more countries are turning away from coal. U.S. coal exports are down, and coal plant construction is slowing the world over — even as renewables become cheaper and more widespread.

To really bring back coal jobs, Trump would have to wish these trends away — along with technological automation and natural gas, which have taken a much bigger bite out of coal jobs than any regulation.

Could domestic regulation have played some role in the decline of coal? Sure, some. Rules limiting emissions of mercury and other pollutants from burning coal, and limiting the ability of coal-burning utilities to dump toxic coal ash in rivers and streams, likely put some financial pressure on coal power plants.

However, those costs should be weighed against the profound health benefits of cleaner air and water.

Cleaning up coal power plants (and reducing their number) leads to fewer children with asthma, fewer costly emergency room visits, and fewer costly disaster responses when massive amounts of toxic coal ash leach into drinking water sources, to name just a few benefits. Most reasonable people would agree those aren’t small things.

There’s also the fact that the decline in coal jobs, while painful for those who rely on them, tells only a small part of the story. In fact, there are alternatives that could put hundreds of thousands of people back to work.

Here are a few little-known facts: Coal accounts for about 26 percent of the electricity generating capacity in our country — and about 160,000 jobs. Solar energy accounts for just 2 percent of our power generation — and 374,000 jobs.

In other words, solar has created more than twice as many jobs as coal, with only a sliver of the electric grid. So if the intent truly is to create more jobs, where would a rational government focus its efforts?

It’s not just solar, either. The fastest growing occupation in the U.S. is wind turbine technician. And a typical wind turbine technician makes $25.50 an hour, more than many fossil fuel workers.

By rolling back commonsense environmental restraints on the coal industry, Trump is allowing the industry to externalize its terrible social and environmental costs on all of us, giving the industry a hidden subsidy. He’s also reopening federal lands to new coal leases, at rates that typically run well below actual market value.

By subsidizing a less-job intensive and more established industry, Trump’s misguided policy changes will thwart the growth of the emerging solar and wind industries, which could create many, many more jobs than coal. In fact, hurting these industries by helping coal might even result in a net job loss for everyone.

Then again, maybe this was never about jobs. Maybe the administration’s intent all along was to reward well-connected coal (and oil and gas) oligarchs who make hefty campaign contributions. If so, that was a good investment for them.

For ordinary working people — and for our planet — the cost could be too much to bear.

Basav Sen directs the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Let’s Face it: The Coal Industry is a Job Killer” was distributed by and is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Last fall, I attended a meeting of the Society for Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty, hosted by the World Bank. The small, somewhat ad-hoc organization has a quirky name but an urgent goal — helping governments, companies and international agencies grapple with complicated problems with enormous and enduring consequences, from forging climate change policy to avoiding the collapse of a financial system.Given that the workshop took place one week after the 2016 election, and given the dismissive stance on climate change of the president-elect, climate policy was a big theme, as were the limits of predictability.What was rare about the conversations and presentations was a full embrace of the unknowable along with the known, even amid demands for immediate and far-reaching policies. Think of that in the context of three decades of the public climate debate, in which discourse has so often been bracketed by proclamations of certain calamity — either environmental (the planet will overheat) or economic (regulations aimed at limiting carbon emissions will strangle businesses).Of course, no one there questioned the basic science identifying a growing human impact on climate from the buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But as is well known in the scientific community, while the climate basics have long been clear, many of the most consequential aspects of climate change remain shrouded in uncertainty.Despite three decades of intensifying analysis using ever more sophisticated computer simulations and observing systems and vast troves of data gleaned through the passage of time, two of the most basic questions remain enduringly unclear: the pace and extent of warming from a given rise in CO2 and the resulting rate of sea-level rise as ice sheets deteriorate. Through 2100 or so, either could be disastrous or manageable.There are also important, if more granular questions to which the answer, with increasing confidence, is essentially we don’t know.

Here are just two:

  • Will the deeply vulnerable African nations along the southern fringe of the Sahara get wetter or drier as CO2 levels build? The last two reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2007 and 2014, said it’s unclear.


  • Will hurricanes pose a bigger threat to U.S. coastlines in 2100 than today? The IPCC reports and more recent research hold a mix of results. Of course rising seas, with only the rate uncertain, will worsen any storm’s impact.

I’ve seen no evidence hinting that clarity is likely to emerge on these questions in the next decade. Does this mean the world should let that African region — which other studies show is vulnerable to mega-droughts with or without global warming — sweat it out as populations double in coming decades? Should coastal cities ignore hurricane hazards and rising seas, whatever the rate, when they plan urban development on coasts?


In a surge of internet rage over the weekend, what could appropriately be called the “uncertainty monster” surfaced once again in the climate debate, in a flood of oversimplification, misinterpretation and correctives. (The phrase was coined in 2005 by Jeroen P. Van der Sluijs, a University of Bergen researcher whose focus is “contested science.”)

The trigger was the inaugural New York Times opinion column by Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer-winning conservative columnist who has variously enraged and enthralled the left and right in political commentary but, until recently, consistently framed “global warming as mass neurosis.”

His piece, “Climate of Complete Certainty,” centered on the failure of the environmental (and political) left to galvanize climate concern and action and blamed that failure on overadherence to certain models and lots of overstatement. “We live in a world in which data convey authority,” he wrote. “But authority has a way of descending to certitude, and certitude begets hubris.”

In some ways, the column made clear Stephens had come a distance in his views. And he flirted with some thoughtfulness about the perils of certainty. But his prime conclusion amounted to a defense of forestalling action on climate change while awaiting more certitude.

The column prompted outrage and criticism from environmental commentators and readers of the Times, upset inflamed even further by the timing — the day of the People’s Climate March that flooded streets in Washington and dozens of other cities.

The resulting debate has born little resemblance to that among the risk managers gathered at the bank. Most likely the result will be more public confusion than enlightenment.

I had written to Stephens last week before his column ran. I was curious to get a sense of the roots of his stance on climate issues. I included a link to a 2016 magazine essay in which I described my 30-year learning curve on the topic.

We had a pleasant, brief back and forth. I noted that some climate insights involved important “known unknowables.” I also said, “The climate arena is rife with overstatement, but it’s at both ends.”

Stephens wound up using parts of my writing.

“As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, ‘I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.’”

At around 800 words, columns inevitably involve trimming. But I wouldn’t have minded if he’d included the rest of my paragraph: “Mind you, there was usually a much bigger gap between the science and the views of industry supporters defending fossil fuels or fighting environmental regulations or taxes. But to me, the monumental nature of the task facing those trying to move the world away from fossil fuels called for extra attention to detail.”

Stephens quoted me one more time, then built his capping thesis. “Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong,” he wrote. “Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.”

It’s not a terribly fair statement of reality. Those serious about climate change have long been clear about the nature of uncertainty on keystone questions: How dangerous is climate change? What do we do about it? Those are laden with value judgments and require debate well beyond science, which simply delineates risks.

And, as I noted in my tweeted message to him before his column ran, his critique of the environmentalists could be used against those proclaiming the certainty of disastrous economic outcomes from policies aimed at cutting greenhouse emissions or boosting communities’ capacity to handle climate hazards. One doesn’t have to look far for examples.

And the flipped argument, that an honest assessment of uncertainty justifies nothing more than more conversation, misses decades of scientific, economic, strategic and policy analysis showing that uncertainty, informed and bounded by science, is actionable knowledge.

Kenneth Caldeira, a much-published Carnegie Institution climate scientist, now divides his time between studying unfolding impacts of climate change, including on coral reefs, and research on possible clean-energy solutions — and occasionally fact-checking the internet with others. On Saturday, he posted a critique stressing the dangers in the Stephens interpretation of uncertainty and lack of attention to what is clearly known:

“Bret Stephens writes of ‘sophisticated but fallible models’ as if ‘sophisticated but fallible’ gives one license to ignore their predictions. A wide array of models of different types and levels of complexity predict substantial warming to be a consequence of continued dependence on using the sky as a waste dump for our CO2 pollution. It doesn’t take much scientific knowledge to understand that the end consequence of this process involves approximately 200 feet of sea-level rise. We already see the coral reefs disappearinga predicted consequence of our CO2 emissions. How much more do we need to lose before recognizing that our ‘sophisticated but fallible models’ are the best basis for policy that we have?”

Caldeira is hardly alone in this view. There are entire issues of scientific journals devoted to understanding and responding to deep climate change uncertainty.

So those calling for nothing but delay and debate, as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt did on MSNBC in March, have some explaining to do. What is it they are waiting for?

In fact, if anything, the core challenge of global warming is both clearer and vastly bigger than most of those debating it either understand or care to talk about. What is perhaps the most important scientific analysis pointing this out went largely uncovered early last year — a paper describing, with essentially no uncertainty, the enormous “consequences of twenty-first-century policy for multi-millennial climate and sea-level change.”

I hope Stephens will stay on this issue, but perhaps looking beyond the uncertainty red herring toward common-sense ways to build a durable relationship with energy and climate that any conservative can embrace.

Over and over, I’ve found that climate disputes obscure agreement on clean energy and on building a resilient relationship with the climate system.

On resilience, there can be bipartisan wisdom in Congress, as was the case, at least briefly, on cutting the subsidy in federal flood insurance that was encouraging development in zones prone to inundation. To revisit this issue doesn’t require embracing the findings in Justin Gillis’ fine Times story last year explaining how a warming-driven rise in sea levels along the East Coast is already contributing to worsening floods even on calm days.

On energy, I’d be eager to know Stephens’ take on “the conservative case for solar subsidies” laid out in a Times op-ed last year by Ben Ho, a White House economic adviser under President George W. Bush. Or he might visit Woodward County, Oklahoma, where John Sutter of CNN in 2015 talked to the owner of a local oil company, Randall Gabrel, who believes “God controls the environment” but also said “we’re going to try to have a solar system big enough to supply all the needs to our house.”

Given his critical eye when it comes to Trump, Stephens might join those trying to hold the president accountable for some campaign statements related to clean energy that appear to clash with his administration’s proposed budget. Last year Trump released this statement to the organization: “Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates (sic) the need for dependence on fossil fuels.”

On Friday, Jeffrey Mervis reported in Science Magazine that, under Trump’s team, the Department of Energy “has stopped processing the paperwork on tens of millions of dollars in research that its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has agreed to fund.” That initiative was created to propel breakthroughs that the private sector can exploit.

Given his support for science, Stephens might explore the gap between Trump’s campaign views and the administration’s actions.

Trump seemed to recognize the value of sustaining federal budgets for basic science during the campaign in answers to questions posed to each candidate by the Science Debate organization:

“[T]he federal government should encourage innovation in the areas of space exploration and investment in research and development across the broad landscape of academia. Though there are increasing demands to curtail spending and to balance the federal budget, we must make the commitment to invest in science, engineering, healthcare and other areas that will make the lives of Americans better, safer and more prosperous.”

There are scant signs of such a commitment to science in the White House’s “skinny” budget, as Science Magazine reported.

Stephens might also talk to the Republican leadership on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee about its funding plans. No conservative columnist has yet built on George Will’s brief effort to warn the incoming Republican House majority in 2011 not to cut science budgets.

So there’s a target-rich environment here for a conservative columnist who says he’s driven by data, averse to unsupported alarm calls and focused on building a better future.

I thus encourage Stephens to join me at the next deep uncertainty summit.

But in the end, given just how “super wicked” this issue is, as some policy analysts have put it, the role of commentary of any kind may have limits.

With that in mind, perhaps the wisest reflection on all of this came over the weekend in a comment by a long-time Facebook friend, Lou Gold, an American expatriate who lives in Brazil’s Acre state, deep in the Amazon rainforest.

“Argumentation — free or false — is not going to resolve the politics,” Gold wrote, “Only nature can do that. And it will.”