Local Governments Acknowledge Inconvenient Truths

Two interesting new reports out that deal with our energy and climate future.

First, Metro has released a draft background paper as part of the Regional Transportation Plan update: Key Environmental Issues and Metro’s Mitigation-Related Activities in the Portland Metropolitan Region.

It’s not online yet, but here are a couple of key paragraphs from the trends section:

Climate Change and Global Warming

Climate change poses a serious and growing threat to Oregon’s economy, natural resources, forests, rivers, agricultural lands, and coastline. Emissions are created as a by-product of fuel combustion and from evaporation of the fuel itself. The combustion of fossil fuels produces a cocktail of greenhouse gases (GHG’s) that trap heat in the atmosphere and cause global warming. The United States is the largest energy user in the world and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

It is estimated that transportation accounts for 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in Oregon and this is predicted to increase by 33 percent by 2025 because of increased driving.

Oil Dependence and Increasing Uncertainty of Supply and Price

The U.S economy’s reliance on foreign oil is mainly due to transportation. Figure 2 displays how transportation’s share of US petroleum use has been increasing; the transportation sector consumes 66% of oil supplied to US economy, up from 55% in 1975.

This dependence on oil is an issue for long range transportation planning, considering the uncertainty surrounding oil’s supply and price. Uncertainty is defined as a measure of the decreasing confidence that supply and price of oil will not be much different next year compared to today’s figures.

Although the exact timing of the peaking of oil supply is unpredictable, certain changes can be anticipated and strategies developed to ease the effects. The uncertainty of oil prices should be considered as transportation investments are being developed as part of the RTP update. The RTP should continue to emphasize land use and transportation planning to reduce mean travel distances and enable greater use of public transit, walking and bicycling as viable transportation options and modes that are less susceptible to oil price fluctuations than private automobiles.

And on Friday, the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Task Force released the public comment draft of its report (PDF, 364K). I’ve only had the chance to go through it once quickly, but it doesn’t duck the hard questions.

Among the recommendations:

Prevent over-expansion of transportation infrastructure that may not be a good investment with higher fuel prices. Air, long-distance truck and car travel are likely to be reduced in response to peak oil, and land use patterns are likely to become more compact. Thus, investments in expanding road and air capacity could be stranded, depending on when the peak occurs. The Port of Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation and other agencies need to consider the impacts of peak oil when developing capital construction plans for major facilities.

  • Encourage the Port of Portland to examine the timing and impacts of a peak oil scenario on air traffic when developing plans to expand the airport.
  • Require Portland Office of Transportation to consider the impacts of rising oil prices when deciding where to invest scarce transportation infrastructure funds.
  • Invest in infrastructure that meets access and mobility needs with less fuel.

Anyone care to speculate on how to evaluate the Columbia Crossing in light of that recommendation?

Here’s a quote from Task Force Chair Bill Scott:

“The Task Force findings illustrate the enormous economic and social vulnerabilities and opportunities that could result as fuel supplies cease to be abundant and inexpensive,” said Task Force Chair Bill Scott. “The magnitude of this issue led the Task Force to explore far-reaching solutions. Our lead recommendation is that Portland cut its oil and natural gas use in half over the next 25 years.”

Now if only the Federal Government would find its way back to reality-based policy-making.

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