Burning Trees Not “Clean” Energy in NC
On September 27,2019, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper handed Center for Sustainable Economy (CSE) and our partners in North Carolina, the Dogwood Alliance, a major victory when the governor announced his state’s Clean Energy Plan would eliminate the combustion of biomass for electricity as a potential “clean energy” source going forward. For years, activists have been fighting propaganda advanced by the timber industry that has claimed that burning biomass is a “clean” source of fuel, when in fact scientific studies say it is worse for the climate than coal.
This victory came on the heels of a report released in September 2019, authored by CSE’s President and Senior Economist, Dr John Talberth, and released with the Dogwood Alliance, that highlighted the catastrophic climate impacts of logging on the state of North Carolina. The report found that the climate impacts of industrial logging is the state’s third most carbon-intensive sector, behind electricity and transportation. The report also highlighted the adverse impacts of tree plantations, which are more susceptible to extreme damage as hurricanes increase in intensity with climate change. By comparison, natural forests, left alone, have the capacity to store enormous amounts of carbon in biomass and soils, and buffer communities from climate impacts like flooding and storms.
The North Carolina Clean Energy Plan went one step further and challenged the methodology that is in place at the national and international level that has resulted in biomass burning being viewed as a “clean, renewable” form of energy. The report reads: “…In a 2018 publication, scientists concluded that the use of wood as fuel is likely to result in net CO2 emissions and may endanger forest biodiversity. Due to this uncertainty, large scale use of NC’s natural resources to meet foreign markets’ carbon reduction goals by taking advantage of current accounting [methodology] should be challenged at the national and international level.”
CSE was one of the first organizations to draw attention to how this flawed methodology plays out at the state level, with a scientific study finding that the timber industry was the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. That study, in turn, was later confirmed by OSU researchers. This latest study with Dogwood Alliance poses yet another challenge to industry representatives who claim that clearcutting forests is a “carbon neutral” process so long as those forests are replanted and, furthermore, that burning the wood from those forests in wood pellets is “clean.”
Forest Carbon Coalition Relaunched
CSE’s President and Senior Economist John Talberth and Climate Justice Program Director Daphne Wysham have partnered with Forest Carbon Coalition Co-Founder, Ernie Niemi, on the relaunch of the Forest Carbon Coalition (FCC), a consortium of over 50 organizations and individuals that are working together to protect international, national, state and indigenous forests from industrial logging practices contributes to climate change.
The FCC aims to: 1) Protect public forestlands throughout the US as forest carbon reserves; 2) replace carbon-intensive forest practices on state and private lands with climate smart alternatives; and 3) amend environmental assessment procedures to require a climate test for all forest projects. The FCC is eager to partner with as many forest protection groups as possible. For more information on the coalition, or to join, click here to visit the website.
PacifiCorp to Use More Costly Coal ’til 2038
Despite admitting that coal-fired power is now more costly than wind or solar, PacifiCorp representatives told CSE and Sierra Club staff and allies at PacifiCorp’s Portland headquarters on October 10, 2019, that they plan to continue to burn coal until 2038. PacifiCorp provides power via their subsidiary, Pacific Power, to Oregon, Washington, and California. (PGE is the other major utility in the state.) The Pacificorp website states: “Of the 24 coal units currently serving PacifiCorp customers, the draft plan envisions retirement of 16 of the units by 2030 and 20 of the units by the end of the planning period in 2038.” The activists gathered called on PacifiCorp to retire their remaining coal power plants as soon as possible, for environmental, economic and public health reasons. Sierra Club of Oregon has calculated that switching off 9 coal-fired power plants would save customers $12 million, eliminate emissions equivalent to 2 million cars on the road, and result in 238 less asthma attacks. PacifiCorp claims they need to keep the more expensive coal-fired power plants going until 2038 in order to provide “certainty for our workforce and communities.”
According to the Oregon Global Warming Commission, coal use accounts for 81% of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector, and electricity currently constitutes 26% of Oregon’s emissions. So eliminating coal as soon as possible from the state’s energy mix would not only get Oregon a long way toward cutting its fossil fuel related emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, in line with the Paris Climate Accords, which Governor Kate Brown has said she supports; it would also have an impact on Oregon’s transport sector which constitutes 39% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. As Oregon increasingly electrifies its transport, making sure this energy is sourced from renewable electricity, not coal, will be critical. CSE will be following this issue closely as the process unfolds
Fossil Fuel Risk Bonds Public Forums
Built along the Willamette River, on a narrow strip of land that was once the river community of Guild’s Lake, the aging fossil fuel infrastructure at Portland’s “Critical Energy Infrastructure” (CEI) hub is extremely vulnerable to soil liquefaction from an imminent Cascadia earthquake.
When (not if) the Really Big One hits–and it could range from 8.0 to 9.2 on the Richter scale-– the disaster will be almost unimaginable. The CEI hub in particular, could create a toxic inferno and spill that would be impossible to contain. According to MikeMyers, Director of Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management, should just 3% all the CEI tanks rupture, the spill would be on the scale of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that cost over $7 billion to clean up.
On Oct. 7 and 14, 2019, CSE and our allies joined two public fora hosted by Multnomah County Commissioners Sharon Meieran and Susheela Jayapal–one in the Linnton area and one in St. Johns neighborhood–to discuss the risks posed by fossil fuel storage tanks at the CEI hub. The fora followed a budget allocation of $50,000 from Multnomah County in support of a study to be conducted by Portland State University (PSU) researchers — advocated for by Commissioner Meieran in May 2019 and supported unanimously by the Commission — to assess the extent of the risks of a spill, explosion, and other disasters at the CEI hub and their costs. (That $50,000 was matched by the City on October 16.) The fora came just weeks before the County plans to introduce a resolution in support of the PSU study at their public meeting on October 31 (more below).
At the fora, Dan Serres of Columbia Riverkeeper described the hundreds of tank farms, rail lines, and proposed fossil fuel projects in the area. Cassie Cohen of Portland Harbor Community Coalition spoke about the ongoing effort to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site and advocate with the communities that have been most harmed. CSE’s Grassroots Organizer, Elijah Cetas, described the need to assess risk now being externalized on nearby communities in order to force the polluter to absorb upfront the cost of a mitigation, cleanup, and transition—a policy CSE has been incubating called Fossil Fuel Risk Bonds.
Multnomah County Commissioners were joined by John Wasiutynski, director of Multnomah County’s Office of Sustainability, and Mike Myers, director of Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Wasiutynski told the crowd his office was committed to using the new study to support a fossil fuel risk bonds approach to charging the polluters. Myers said the City supported that effort and would help fund the risk assessment and improve Community Right to Know. Most notably, Myers said the City would be introducing an ordinance in the coming months that would force the fossil fuel companies to retrofit their tank farms for the pending earthquake. Eventually, the County and City both want the fossil fuel infrastructure gone.
Join us on the morning of October 31, 2019, for the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners meeting when the Commissioners will vote on their new fossil fuel resolution.
When: Thursday, October 31, 9:30 AM
What: Multnomah County Commissioners will vote on their new resolution opposing fossil fuel infrastructure and outlining their intention to charge polluters for their risks.
Interested in testifying? Email Elijah Cetas at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Wear Red. Or a halloween costume.*
Climate Strike: Oregon Week of Action
Inspired by Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, over 4 million people globally joined a youth-led climate strike on Friday, September 20, 2019, demanding immediate climate action. Over 800,000 strikers walked out across the U.S. alone, and in Portland, roughly 20,000 marchers took to the streets. Among the demands made by the youth in Portland: 1) establish a “climate test” to make sure that “every decision made by the city of Portland and its departments … take(s) into account the health of the planet and choose(s) what will most benefit the earth;” 2) “formally declare a climate emergency with meaningful youth and frontline community involvement;” 3) fund free TriMet passes to all high school students in Portland; 4) deny any and all permits for Zenith tar sands oil terminal. CSE joined other nonprofit groups in giving talks at the Climate Strike festival that took place after the march at OMSI. Elijah Cetas and Nick Caleb discussed the history of organizing against fossil fuel projects, and the way the campaign to stop the Zenith oil terminal is leading to new policies towardsa managed decline of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, Daphne Wysham joined Khanh Pham from OPAL Environmental Justice to discuss how carbon offset schemes can harm frontline communities and represent a false solution to the climate crisis.
Also during Climate Strike Week, on September 24-26, the Stop Zenith Collaborative and 350PDX activists held a 60-hour vigil at the site of the Zenith tar sands terminal to draw attention to the extremely hazardous cargo that Zenith is bringing by rail from Canada to Portland’s CEI hub.
Big Timber and the Climate Emergency at Patagonia
CSE held a public event on September 26 at the end of the Climate Strike Week of Action to discuss “Big Timber and the Climate Emergency” at Patagonia’s store in Northwest Portland. CSE’s President and Senior Economist, Dr John Talberth, gave a talk on the climate impacts of industrial logging practices in Oregon–the state’s #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions-– and the policy options the state could undertake to make climate smart alternatives the law and not the exception.
The talk was well-attended, and recorded on Facebook Livestream, which you can watch here and here. (Watch for a higher quality recorded version of this talk out soon!) Special thanks to Patagonia for giving us the space and making a generous contribution to our work!
Click here to make a donation and help us continue our work protecting Pacific Northwest forests, which have the potential to store more carbon than any other forests on earth. Email: email@example.com to find out more on how you can get involved in the Forest Action Focus Groups.
Environmental Law and the Green New Deal Course
Date: October 2, 2019 – November 20, 2019, 5:30 PM – 7:30PM
Fee: $20-50 for all courses (to cover food, payment for quest lecturers, sliding scale, no one will be turned away)
Location: HatchLab PDX – Conference Room – 2420 NE Sandy, Portland, OR 97232
CSE’s Staff Attorney Nick Caleb and Grassroots Organizer Elijah Cetas are hosting an eight week professional education course on environmental law and public policy geared towards activists, organizers, and community members interested in working to build a Green New Deal. Together, we are learning about existing environmental laws and institutions, pathways for advocacy, and envisioning campaigns for bold and transformative change to address the climate emergency. Join us!
CSE House Party
Many thanks to West Linn, OR resident and TV producer Sally Desipio, we held a successful House Party at her lovely home in West Linn, Oregon, on October 3, 2019, where we had the chance to discuss CSE’s work and meet with people concerned about environmental issues in the Clackamas County region. Among the issues Sally DeSipio is working on is getting Clackamas County to achieve a 100% renewable energy target as quickly as possible. If you would like to work with Sally and the rest of CSE on achieving this ambitious goal and other environmental issues in Clackamas County, or to host a CSE House Party in your area, please be in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you spare $5 a month to help us continue this critical work? Click here and donate!Thank you!