It's been 1,961 days since the Oregon Legislature told Metro to come up with a plan for curbing the region's tailpipe emissions. The process is 97.3 percent of the way to its Dec. 31, 2014 deadline.
But a joint meeting of regional leaders Thursday indicated the plan still has a way to go before it will have the support of local governments.
The Metro Policy Advisory Committee, the Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation and the Metro Council met in a rare joint session Friday, to discuss Metro's long-studied plan to curb the region's tailpipe emissions by 20 percent before 2035.
Metro's public engagement staff said the plan has broad support – more than three-quarters of people who responded to surveys supported most of the elements in the plan.
The strategy for reducing emissions has to be wrapped up by the end of the year. It's a Metro Council decision to make, but support of representatives from the region's 25 cities and three counties will play a key factor in the Council's decision.
And while Metro's planning staff said they based the approach to curbing emissions on what was already in local plans, local leaders were concerned Friday that Metro would force cities to put regional needs ahead of local needs.
Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp represents the cities of Clackamas County on JPACT. He wanted to know more about the autonomy cities would have to set their own priorities.
"There's a considerable amount of concern that the Metro position, that (the tailpipe strategy) is based on aggregating all the different plans from all the different communities, but that the structure will be channelized to only facilitate funding for those projects that align with Metro's goals, not with local goals," Knapp said.
Dick Jones, a representative of the Oak Lodge Water District and other Clackamas County special districts on MPAC, said he wanted to see a focus on project prioritization.
"As we go down in this thing, let's say we're years in and we've only been able to raise, other than the money we know about, a quarter billion dollars. How are we going to put that quarter of a billion dollars to work?" Jones said. "How much goes to active transportation, transit, street maintenance, parking policies – we need to identify priorities. We're not going to get all this money. We're not going to do all these things on the first date. We need a better roadmap so people know where the signals are."
Several local leaders wanted to see a "toolbox" of actions that could help cut emissions made into an advisory document. They were concerned about whether the toolbox could later be used to micromanage cities' plans.
"There's too much detail," said Port of Portland representative Susie Lahsene.
But Metro attorney Roger Alfred said the toolkit was advisory, and was a required part of Metro's response to the state's mandate.
"Although the toolbox is being adopted as part of this package, they're not binding requirements," Alfred said. "They're recommendations."
Paths toward the climate goals
There were fundamental differences at the joint meeting about how to address the Legislature's mandate to curb tailpipe emissions.
The mandate came as part of a bill that approved nearly $1 billion for highway construction in Oregon. Still, Clackamas County representatives said they thought emissions should be cut by building more roads, and by bolstering the region's jobs-housing balance.
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas was particularly vocal about ensuring that any emissions reduction plan include construction of more highways.
"The toolbox lacks emphasis and commitment to addressing highway improvements to congestion concerns," Savas said. "The word highway, I only caught in two places in the entire toolbox. The word transit, it's well over a dozen. It's a tremendous emphasis on transit and a lack of emphasis on some core tools that reflect our TSPs (transportation system plans)."
The notion of widening highways to fight climate change has been disputed by some, including the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. In an advocacy message, the BTA calls for an emphasis on investment in transit and active transportation.
After the meeting, BTA advocacy director Gerik Kransky said the one thing that was certain out of Friday's meeting is that there isn't enough transportation funding. But, Kransky said, transit and active transportation hold the key to meeting the state's tailpipe emission reduction mandate.
"It's obvious from Metro's own research that highway expansion is not the tool we need to prioritize if we want to reduce pollution from the transportation sector," Kransky said. "I was disappointed that there was such intense focus on the road funding side of the conversation, because frankly we have a strong sense of what the real priorities are if we're going to reduce Oregon's approximate 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and that is new investments in transit, and new investments in biking and walking."
Representatives from the region's third most populous county also said they wanted to see more information about how the Climate Smart Communities strategies could impact the region's economy. Savas said that Clackamas County, as a social service provider, has to be focused on helping people get to jobs.
"The co-benefits, when it comes to jobs and employment lands and linking highways to serve future employment lands, is huge," Savas said. "The county's trying to serve people that are homeless. From a county perspective… we have to live out of a world providing the social safety net. When you live in that world you get to see the consequences – either the lack of infrastructure, the lack of employment lands turn the tide of building up poverty and at least flattening it out, or moving towards prosperity."
He pushed back on the suggestion that widening highways simply causes more drivers to use the newly-widened roads, creating new congestion on new lanes. Metro staff pointed to a California study that looked at that "induced demand."
"We're not going to solve congestion. We realize reality," Savas said. "If we're going to cite Southern California, let's talk about HOV lanes, let's talk about toll roads – these studies spelled out in reductions of greenhouse gases" from implementing those strategies, Savas said.
Refocusing on goals
But Metro Councilor Bob Stacey said the conversation was losing focus of its origin – a state mandate to curb tailpipe emissions in the Portland region.
Stacey said the tailpipe reduction strategy is based primarily on building out the region's transportation plan, which includes adding lanes. The question is how to get the money to build that transportation plan.
"We don't have the money for transit. We don't have enough money in many communities to build roads," Stacey said. "We're not going to get anywhere economically, climate or otherwise, unless we fund the constrained RTP over the next 20 years and find some additional resources to do the things I'm convinced we need to do on the transit side."
That prompted Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick to remind the group that the economy can be bolstered – and perhaps, in the future, significantly so – by making it easier for people to spend less money driving.
"If the federal government does ever take action to address climate disruption, than an extremely likely way of their doing it … is through a significant carbon tax," Novick said. "If there's a significant national carbon tax, that will drive up the cost of transportation for anybody driving a fossil fuel vehicle. If we make investments, the economic benefits for citizens will be huge."
The Metro Council's decision is likely to come by Dec. 18, its last scheduled meeting before the state's deadline. MPAC and JPACT will likely have just one meeting each to weigh in on any proposed revisions to a tailpipe emissions plan.
Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington said the plan has been thoroughly vetted, by staffers, advocates and members of the public. She's optimistic it will be finished by Dec. 18.
"This is a major piece of legislation. Adopting a preferred scenario to satisfy the Legislature's request to reduce our greenhouse emissions is a complex piece of legislation, with many moving parts," Harrington said after the meeting. "It's very clear that we have work to do between now and the end of the year, so everyone understands how we're meeting the state requirement and doing so in a way that is reflective of all of our joint work over the last few years, taking advantage of the great plans we already have in our region.
"If the folks in the room are actually committed, we can get it done," she said.