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Portland Addresses Environmental Justice In City’s Climate Action Plan Update

March 27, 2017

PortlandClimateActionPlanEnvironmental justice is not just a lofty goal of the environmentally conscious.  Take for example the different responses to environmental contamination in two different areas in Los Angeles. Residents in Porter Ranch were almost immediately evacuated and local schools were closed as a precautionary measure when a natural gas leak occurred at the underground storage facility in nearby Aliso Canyon. Meanwhile, in Boyle Heights, people were never evacuated from their homes and remediation is slowly happening to mitigate the pollution to air, soil, and water caused by the Exide Battery Plan in Vernon for 30 years.

Portland is updating their Climate Action Plan to address environmental justice issues.  Those issues include mitigating potential negative impacts to lower socio-economic communities that could occur in the process of trying to accomplish previously established environmental goals.  For example, the City of Portland seeks to reduce the use of coal and natural gas sources used to generate electricity for the City.  In order to minimize the potential cost burdens that could impact lower socio-economic households in Portland, the City is proposing to implement efficiency measures that reduce energy use and cost in lower socio-economic households.

Ignoring environmental justice issues will end up limiting or negating the ability to accomplish a truly clean and protected environment.

From Governing – Environmental justice is a big issue in government. Studies have repeatedly shown that communities of color are exposed to more air pollution than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts; that landfills, hazardous waste sites and other industrial facilities are most often located in minority communities; and that climate change and water contamination disproportionately affect such neighborhoods.

What’s less known is how best to fix these injustices. If you’re Portland, Ore., though, you start by simply writing equity into your climate action plan. The progressive city, which was the first to develop a local climate action plan in 1993, is now one of the first to make sure environmental justice is a key component of that plan. And the idea to include it came from Portland’s own minority communities.

After releasing its 2009 climate action plan, the city actively sought community feedback from residents. Among the roughly 1,500 comments received, there was one consistent and common thread that stood out: the need for equity. “We realized we needed to address institutional racism,” says Desiree Williams-Rajee, equity specialist with the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. “We update our climate action plan every four years and knew that was our opportunity to address it.”

So the bureau got straight to work writing economic and racial equity into the plan. It formed a working group and spent the next five years systemically incorporating equity into every aspect of it. In 2015, Portland released its updated climate action plan, which also includes new policies designed to move the city toward a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. “To walk the talk, we went through the 2009 plan action by action to see how it impacted communities,” says Williams-Rajee. “We asked ourselves, ‘Where do you put equity so that it has the most impact?’ And the answer was, ‘It has to be everywhere.’ We really added it throughout the whole plan.”

For example, here’s a snippet from Portland’s 2009 plan and one from its 2015 plan:

2009 Objective 3: Collaborate to reduce the role of carbon — including from coal and natural gas sources — in Portland’s electricity mix.
2015 Objective 3: Collaborate with Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, customers and stakeholders to reduce the carbon content in Portland’s electricity mix by 3 percent per year. … Mitigate potential cost burdens to low-income households principally through efficiency measures that reduce energy use and cost.

Portland’s updated plan has…to read the rest of this article, please click here.

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