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Public speakers rally behind climate plan

The tug of war about what to do (or not) about climate change may continue in other parts of the country, but a small chamber in Ashland, Oregon, was packed Tuesday with people passionate about taking concrete steps to address the issue. 

Roughly 100 people in attendance at the regular business meeting of the City Council asked the city to not only work toward a goal of zero emissions, but to codify that effort into law. 

Not one speaker opposed that point of view or argued that climate change is not real or important. The group instead urged the council to take an aggressive stance against global warming as part of its Climate and Energy Action Plan which got underway in May. 

Ashland City Council chambers echoed with the voices of residents who spoke on the issue. 

Those who sat crammed into the Ashland Council Chambers urged city officials to move toward a progressive agenda of zero emissions as soon as possible. 

Seventeen-year-old Collin Ellis was the first to address the council about global warming. “We’ve had Mt. Ashland being closed due to lack of snow pack,” he said. “We don’t have to go to the North Pole to see change.” He urged councilors to not only adopt a resolution calling for actions to limit global warming, but to codify it into law. “I want to see a legally binding ordinance. With that it shows the City Council is not just making a blind promise but it’s an important issue we’re willing to stake a legally binding ordinance on.” 

Zander Houston, 14, confidently read from prepared remarks to the council. “I love the outdoors and have made some of the memories I hold most dear there,” he said. He also urged the council to create an ordinance demanding targets of zero emissions for the city. “Success does not happen without follow through,” Houston said.

The city hopes to have a completed plan by January. It would primarily be based on “sector-based” emission reductions, as opposed to “consumer-based,” even though 43 percent of the city’s greenhouse gases come from consumption-based emissions associated with food, goods and transportation. Experts told the council they could better track how the city uses energy and can curb emissions through sector-based monitoring than consumer-based measurement, which would have to track everything from computers to beef. 

“Consumption should be part of the plan, but it’s hard to track and measure. Perhaps over time it could become easier,” said Councilor Rich Rosenthal, who also chairs the Climate and Energy Action Plan Ad Hoc Committee. 

The plan calls for Ashland to be a carbon-neutral community by 2047 using sector-based tracking of building heating and cooling, transportation and methane gases from waste. The plan at this time does not include the biggest slice of emissions caused by consumption, but promises to look at it and make recommendations to the public. 

Another thorny issue raised was the concept of carbon offsets which can be purchased outside the community. This helps to reach targets by financially supporting and offsetting local emissions through the underwriting of programs in other communities. Offsets can be controversial because they take money out of the local community and do not necessarily speak to lower emissions locally, a point that troubled Councilor Greg Lemhouse. “It feels like offsets are a bit of a cop out as opposed to making changes locally,” he said.

Councilor Rosenthal said no decisions have been made about offsets but it is a part of the discussion. 

Councilor Stefani Seffinger asked for specifics of how the sector-based plan would work and was told it would be through consideration of changing out fleets to electric cars, changing out lights to LEDs that use less energy, installing better building heating and cooling controls to reduce consumption, more use of public transportation and examining city programs for energy efficiency.

No specifics were given about larger issues, such as Oregon’s dependence on outside coal which accounts for roughly a third of all energy used in the state. Hydro electricity is the largest source at roughly 43 percent. A law passed in March calls for the state to wipe out coal-generated energy in phases through 2030 and requires utilities to provide half of customers' power with renewable sources by 2040.

Ashland currently purchases 99 percent of its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, according to the city, which says virtually none of the power sold to the city is from fossil fuel sources.

The city of Ashland offers rebate programs for consumers who invest in solar energy. It also offers a buy-back program for residents and businesses who generate renewable energy such as solar. 

Still, how the city sources its energy remains part of the dialogue around the plan, as well as conservation techniques. 

Whether the city will create an ordinance demanding aggressive policies to limit C02 emissions for the purpose of slowing global warming is unclear despite the demand from the majority of speakers at the meeting on Tuesday. 

Rosenthal said it is among the possibilities being developed. 

The next open house for the public to contribute to the plan will be in September. There will be a final open house in December. The first one in May at the Historic Ashland Armory had about 300 people in attendance. 

Bend, Oregon, is also in a process to create an action plan. Eugene has one in place and has adopted an ordinance around it to bolster its impact. 

Meantime, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, June 2016 was the hottest June ever recorded.

According to a recent University of California Los Angeles study, roughly 15 percent of cities are now tracking their emissions and some 9 percent are creating action plans to respond to climate change.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.