November 7, 2006
Portland is Becoming One of the Most Bio-Upgradeable Cities in the U.S.
When the worldís delegates meet in Nairobi, Kenya this week, they will again tackle the impact of global warming on climate change. Change has indeed been felt around the world environmentally and politically with the Kyoto Protocol. Now change will also gravely impact the world economically, according to Nicholas Stern, Britainís chief economist. An extensive report, released Oct. 30, issues a dire warning that the world may already be beyond reach of countering the effects of global warming unless a decidedly worldwide effort to stop it begins immediately. Otherwise the staggering economic cost could devastate most world economies as much as the forecasted weather changes could devastate the environment.
By Sherry Harbert
Dire forecasts of climatic doom would beg the question as to why the hesitation to act to counter global warming. It is not a question that Oregon and the City of Portland has yet to answer. Oregonís top economists, environmental leaders and colleges issued a similar warning one year ago. The prediction emerged from a meeting held at Lewis and Clark College last October that recognized the scientific data produced by Oregon State University in 2004. The Oregon sectors most vulnerable to climate change include agriculture, forestry, tourism and hydroelectricity. Though President George Bush rescinded support for the Kyoto Protocol shortly after entering office in 2001, Oregon responded both in public and private ways, beginning with the Sustainability Act in 2001.The ongoing scientific data propelled the state to seek greater vehicle emission standards, along with an overall energy policy that addresses global warming and jobs. It has generated increasingly non-partisan support from both sides of the political spectrum, along with environmental groups, business and interfaith alliances.
Oregon Senator Gordon Smith (R) and Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D) co-sponsored the Fuel Economy Reform Act this year. Governor Ted Kulongowski pushed for greater use of biofuels that included the use of hybrids, along with ethanol and biodiesel fuels. In a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D), the governor announced plans to introduce legislation in 2007 that would increase production and use of ethanol and biodiesel. Oregonís 2005-2007 energy policy sets high standards for use of alternative fuels and energy resources. It has been, in part, aided by Californiaís monumental energy policies. Oregon is discovering a green energy policy is bringing the other green into its coffers. Much of that energy is coming from Portland.
Itís Becoming Easier to be Green
When SustainLane announced Portland as a role model for the nation in June, it drew little fanfare. The annual survey highlighted the private and public efforts in Portland for its 2006 designation. The lack of public response for the designation may reflect the cityís motto, ďItís not easy being green,Ē but not the intensity of the commitment many have in the city to counter global warming.
Portland Mayor Tom Potter and the four city commissioners issued a resolution to counter global warming in 2005. The resolution was more than a grand ideal. Portland became one of the first cities in the U.S. to sign onto the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). Think of it as a national interpretation of the Kyoto Protocol. Portland was listed with just four other U.S. cities in a CCX display in the Economistís Climate Change survey in September. Portlandís city leaders unanimously voted to join the CCX, which mandated a reduction in greenhouse emissions by the end of this year.
Portland continued its push for environmentally-friendly policies with another resolution this May. The city established a Peak Oil Task Force to determine the cityís vulnerability to diminishing supplies of foreign oil and natural gas. Findings from the task force will be used to update the cityís Local Action Plan on Global Warming in 2007. The strategy includes using alternative fuel sources as part of its efforts to counter global warming.
Commissioner Randy Leonard has championed the use of biodiesel in the cityís strategic energy plan. Leonard recently posted a two-part series, This Isnít Your Fatherís Diesel, on Blue Oregon, a progressive blog for Oregon Democrats. Leonard is well-researched in the area and doesnít hesitate to use his knowledge to push for a greater role in biodiesel usage. The city has been using biodiesel for two years as part of its Clean Air Strategy that mandates an 80-20 ratio of petro-diesel to biodiesel. According to the cityís October newsletter, Portland purchases 120,000 gallons of biodiesel, along with 480,000 gallons of petro-diesel to create a B20 blend for its City Fleet. The Water Bureau had gone much further. It has converted over 80 vehicles to B-99, which is almost a pure biodiesel. (The number after the ďbĒ represents the percentage of biodiesel in the fuel.) The American Water Works Association (AWWA), will feature Portlandís move to biodiesel in its next publication.
Biodiesel is Becoming a Bio-Dynamic Industry
Last week, Imperium Renewables broke ground on the largest biodiesel plant in the U.S. The plant, the first to be funded by venture capital money, will be located in Hoquiam, Washington. The Seattle-based Imperium announced that once the plant is in full operation it should produce 100 million gallons of biodiesel a year. Imperium currently produces five million gallons a year at its Seattle plant, which supplies local government agencies, schools and commuter ferries.
Oregonís largest biodiesel producer is SeQuential Biofuels, based in Portland. Its Salem plant produces one million gallons a year. The company opened its first retail solar-powered biofuel station in Eugene this summer. It supplies both biodiesel and ethanol blends. SeQuential already supplies its fuel products to dozens of Oregon businesses and government agencies. SeQuentialís founder, Tom Endicott, has made it his business to also speak about the biofuel industry wherever he can, like Portland State Universityís Transportation Seminar Series and a myriad of forums and environmental fairs.
SeQuential is working with Oregon farmers to produce canola and rape seeds to offset the demand for used oils. SeQuential is hoping that the 2007 legislature will pass tax incentives to make it more feasible for farmers. With all the market forces pushing for greater use and innovation in the alternate fuel industry, it still needs a greater push from government to realize its potential. It is why the City of Portlandís lead is vital to the growth of the industry.
The changes in how public agencies have responded to biofuels has opened up markets in the every facet of the alternate fuel industry. Get behind a Tri-Met bus now and its emissions will smell like French fries instead of noxious fumes. The public transportation agency uses biodiesel to run its fleet. With the current push toward biodiesel use, it still represents less than two percent of all energy use in the state. Oregonís Renewable Energy Action Plan calls for ethanol use alone to reach two percent by the end of the year. It will be one of the issues facing the new legislature in January.
A Wave of Bad News
But even with Oregonís goals to increase usage of alternate fuels, biofuels are only part of the solution for global warming. The world still faces dramatic changes that will affect every aspect of life on the planet in the next decades. To give Portlanders a little taste of what that means, members of the Oregon Global Warming Action Network (OreGWAN), staged a beach party in Portlandís trendy Pearl District in early October. Member David Sweet donned his snorkel and beachwear to demonstrate what could happen to downtown Portland if global warming goes unchecked.
The Forty Foot Line project was designed to give Portlanders a sense of where the new water line would reach with the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. It was a strong visual statement to those looking for parking and fun evening during the opening night of the Pearl Districtís First Thursday art event. But that is what OreGWAN intended. Sweet handed out information sheets depicting the future of the area with scientific forecasts of rising ocean levels over the next century. In March, satellite surveys conducted by the scientists with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAH), and from major universities around the nation concluded that the polar ice caps were melting faster than previously determined. The effects not only mean loss of land, but drastic changes in weather patterns.
The effect hit home for many Americans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. According to World Public Opinion and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, public opinion on the serious threat of global warming rose sharply (up 46 percent from 37 percent in 2004) after the 2005 hurricane hit the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. The percentages of citizens seeing a critical threat is greater outside the U.S. Australia (68 percent) and South Korea (67 percent) lead the world in the greatest number of their populations worried about global warming. Even the India (51 percent) and China (47 percent) believe there must be action to counter global warming.
For those working to counter global warming, the strategy is two-fold. Make sustainable choices in readily available actions, like driving energy efficient vehicles, recycling and consuming less for the immediate future and look for ways to counter global warming in the long-term. For the members of OreGWAN and other local organizations it means having a long-term.
© 2006, Foreign Interest
For more information:
City of Portland: www.portlandonline.com
SeQuential Biofuels: www.sqbiofuels.com
Sustainable Oregon: http://sustainableoregon.net
Chicago Climate Exchange: www.chicagoclimateexchange.com