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How Cascadia could prevent another “lost decade” in the fight against global warming
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How Cascadia could prevent another “lost decade” in the fight against global warming


Imagine you waking up in 2030 to discover that Washington, Oregon and British Columbia had done little to reduce the global warming which has caused the Cascadia area to become a hotbed of global warming. This alone killed 600 people in British Columbia. That choked Cascadia’s skies all summer. This triggered tornado warnings in October. Then, last month, freeways were washed away, homes were flooded, and lives were disrupted on both sides.

It is possible that the 2030 nightmare scenario will become a reality. Just look at what Cascadia woke up to on New Year’s Day 2021: Our supposedly “green” corner of the world came nowhere near to meeting the ambitious climate action goals for 2020 that politicians set a decade earlier, earning themselves accolades and admiration — not to mention talking points for the campaign trail.

When InvestigateWestLaunched the Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia series in January 2021, the latest official data showed that emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases had risen steadily from 2012 to 2018, and the region wasn’t on track to make big cuts this decade.

“We have not kept pace with the scope of the crisis,” Oregon Global Warming Commission Chair Catherine Macdonald wrote to legislatorsThat month.

The emissions trend has actually improved since then. worse. We now know that Cascadia’s greenhouse gas pollution went on increasing in 2019, according to state and provincial data assembled and analyzed by InvestigateWestThis report is available.

And, despite an unprecedented string of 2021 victories by local activists and politicians dedicated to addressing the climate crisis, big gaps remain in the region’s response. Washington Governor. Jay Inslee acknowledged a shortfall during a press conference last month: “Even with our best-in-the-nation laws, and even with federal action, we don’t have enough on the books today to actually reduce carbon at the pace we need to.”

To cap this year’s series, InvestigateWestCascadia’s ability to protect itself against another decade of destruction was a major concern. The answer, according to activists, experts and officials, is to identify the region’s next steps for climate-cutting action, and press harder in 2022.

What’s hopeful is that climate policies leaped forward this year in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Activists won a series of local victories and passed municipal and regional laws. ban new and expanded fossil fuel developments. Oregon and Washington legislators approved long-stalled climate bills. And the British Columbia government overhauled the province’s climate plan.

“It’s been the best year for action on climate in this region,” says Gregg Small, executive director for Seattle-based regional nonprofit Climate Solutions.

But activists, experts and labor leaders, as well as government officials, were interviewed by InvestigateWestStill unsure if we’re on track to meet our make-or break 2030 goals.

Climate scientists believe that the world must reduce carbon emissions by half by the year 2010. This will prevent global warming from causing even more severe climate swings. By 2050, they say, we must reach net-zero emissions, releasing no more carbon than we can pull back out of Earth’s atmosphere.


The Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter evacuated 311 people and animals from a road blocked by a landslide in British Columbia, November 16, 2021. Every highway and rail line linking coastal BC to the rest of Canada washed out in November after an ‘atmospheric river’ — an extended storm linked to climate change — dumped a month’s worth of rain on southern BC in just two days.

The stakes are clear in the string of extreme warming-driven catastrophes that battered Cascadia this year — events that rattled even experts and activists who’ve spent their entire careers working on climate change. “I am deeply sobered,” says Eileen V. Quigley, executive director of the Clean Energy Transition Institute, a regional think tank based in Seattle. “I had believed that we still had until 2030 before we would start to see serious impacts of warming.”

Quigley was full of hope in January. And in the months that followed, the energy modeling she managed helped drive Cascadia’s legislative breakthroughs. But near 2021’s end, she describes a sense of “immense urgency.”

GRAPHIC OR emissions past and projected.png

Politicians once again declare their support for the plan, just like a decade ago. “We can’t continue to kick the can down the road,” British Columbia Premier John Horgan said a few weeks before record-breaking flooding crippled southern British Columbia in November.

Both sides of the border leaders said the same things in the years leading up to 2010, when Cascadia established ambitious goals to reduce climate-altering pollutants. The leaders did not follow through. What was lacking were policies that could help push economic growth to a track that used less energy from fossil fuels.

Horgan and his counterparts across the states have more carbon-cutting capabilities for this decade. Still, some big gaps remain:

• While simulations suggest that British Columbia’s upgraded plan could meet its 2030 goal, similar models show Washington and Oregon coming up short. And Oregon’s goals — a 45% emissions cut from 1990 levels by 2035 and an 80% cut by 2050 — are well short of Washington’s and British Columbia’s targets and what climate scientists advise.

• The region’s power grid — part of a larger Western grid — is too weak and fractured to reliably integrate the massive increase in renewable energy needed to decarbonize.

• Cascadia’s rules don’t constrain highway expansion, which tends to increase driving and thus emissions. That’s a particular concern in the United States, where $110 billion from President Biden’s infrastructure bill is headed to the states with few strings attached.

• None of Cascadia’s jurisdictions has proven policies to rein in growing consumption of natural gas, which is backed by a powerful oil and gas industry and associated unions.

Activists suggest that the gaps may be even wider. A key reason: Cascadia’s governments are counting on driving down fossil fuel dependence by charging a fee for carbon pollution to nudge consumers and industries toward cleaner energy. However, this policy has been mainly used to generate revenue and not to reduce emissions in places like California or Europe. This is because it was easy and inexpensive to comply with. Cascadia’s leaders, however, are now counting on carbon fees to strongly DriveFuture emission cuts. In reality, future emissions reductions could be less than claimed. A political backlash could also be triggered by rising prices.

Deric Gruen, co-executive director at Seattle-based environmental justice network Front and Centered, also warns that policies designed to encourage cleaner energy may not actually cut fossil fuel use and the associated emissions: “While we are adding renewable energy, much of that is going toward increased overall consumption of energy. Which is what our economy is geared to do.”

There are definitely signs of wishful thinking in 2021, as politicians from all over the region indicate. InvestigateWest found one half-truth lurking in British Columbia’s latest emissions data.

CHART cascadia updated.png

The province’s official inventory presents carbon emissions as essentially flat in 2019, which is misleading. Factor in the carbon footprint of imported electricity consumed in the province — which is considered best practice for greenhouse gas reporting by many cities, states and regions — and British Columbia’s emissions jumped by more than 1 million metric tons.

In fact, counting all electricity used in British Columbia, the province’s emissions hit an all-time high in 2019.

Does it matter if there are more years of rising emissions? It does, because that’s how decades get lost. One year at a.m. A year slips by while the public isn’t paying attention. Another follows, and another.

Climate leaders respond InvestigateWest’sInquiries provided plenty of concrete and measurable actions that could be taken to prevent this from happening again in the next 12 months.

Assuring a cleaner, more reliable grid

Because clean electricity such as solar and wind can be generated, the power grid is an important lynchpin of decarbonization. take the place of fossil fuels currently used to power vehicles, heat buildings and much more. With the recent passage of a bill to clean up Oregon’s electricity supply, all of the region’s power providers are now legally obligated to eliminate coal-fired power and to slash or eliminate emissions from generators burning natural gas by 2030.

Officials at utilities insist that they are well-positioned to fulfill those mandates. Alas, Cascadia’s mandated build-out of renewable energy sits on some shaky foundations — literally, in British Columbia’s case.

Oregon’s new clean electricity law, which requires an 80% cut in power plant emissions by 2030 (relative to 2010-2012 emissions), followed a comparable voluntary commitment by Portland General Electric. Maria Pope, the utility’s CEO, says the utility will be bringing on additional renewable power starting next year to comply and adding flexible resources such as big batteries to help integrate their variable energy. “We have very clear pathways to 2030,” says Pope.

Josh Jacobs has a similar feeling for Puget Sound Energy, based in Seattle. The company distributes both natural and electric gas. PSE’s vice president for clean energy strategy says he feels more optimistic about meeting Washington’s net-zero electricity goal for 2030 after the utility drafted its first state-mandated clean power plan this year. “After seeing that plan, it feels like a very reasonable glide path to 2030,” says Jacobs.

Oregon policy manager at Renewable Northwest, a Portland-based advocacy group for renewable energy, Diane Brandt says utilities in Washington could surpass state mandates. Her organization commissioned modeling of Oregon’s policies with Berkeley-based nonprofit GridLab and Quigley’s think tank. They discovered that reaching targets early can save money both for utilities as well as their customers.

There are other factors that could cause utilities to be short. British Columbia’s new hydropower plant will provide the clean power it needs in order to move vehicles, buildings and industries away from petroleum and natural gas. BC Hydro, a provincial utility, is building its Site C Dam megaproject from fractured sediment. The result is instability is multiplying the project’s costThe dam could be forced to operate below its design capacity, or scrapped entirely. First Nations could also challenge the project.

The region is also facing shifting precipitation patterns that could threaten its ability to produce hydropower without carbon emissions. In 2019, lower reservoirs contributed to the rise in emissions in Washington and Oregon, which used more fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Scott Bolton, senior vice president for transmission development at Portland-based PacifiCorp, calls the growing uncertainty of rain- and snow-driven hydropower part of the “race” to decarbonize: Cascadia must quickly augment this historically dominant power source with wind, solar and other clean energy sources.

Bolton and Pope, grid experts and industry officials, say that strengthening the power network and its coordination is a key solution so that West-based states and provinces can share renewable energy surpluses as well as back up energy supplies like green hydrogen.

One solution within reach for 2022 is completing rules for enhanced energy sharing across the West, including an expanded voluntary market for Cascadia’s utilities to trade power and another system for sharing backup reserves. “2022 will be the year that we get it put together, and 2023 will be the year that it starts up,” says Bolton.

Guiding greener growth

Policies to clean up the rest of modern living — particularly how we get around and how we energize our buildings — remain Cascadia’s greatest challenge. While electrical power generation has generally gotten cleaner over the past decade, emissions from transportation and buildings have been growing with the region’s population. These sectors will be encouraged to use lower-carbon energy by policy upgrades in 2021.


Thanks to this year’s legislative breakthroughs, all three of Cascadia’s jurisdictions now have the key growth-guiding policies that have established California as an energy-transition leader:

• Clean fuel standards to ratchet down the carbon content of motor fuels,

• Sales mandates that force automobile manufacturers to phase out gasoline and diesel-fueled cars and trucks, and

• Systems to make carbon polluters pay for each ton of CO2 they emit.

These programs make climate-friendly consumer options more affordable and more readily available. They generate revenue to support low-income residents with clean energy upgrades and charging stations for electric cars. They also guide private investment by telling consumers and industries where things are headed.

Gregg Small, Climate Solutions, and many other interviewed by InvestigateWestThe 2022 Job 1 job is for bureaucrats who will abandon their traditional government practices to adopt an emergency position to pass climate-friendly laws quickly. Merran Smith, executive director of Vancouver-based nonprofit Clean Energy Canada and a member of British Columbia’s Climate Solutions Council, says governments need to act decisively — just as they’ve done to combat COVID.

“We cannot discuss and debate and consult endlessly. These policies need to be in place quickly. Much faster than we are doing,” says Smith.

To speed up progress in 2022, governments can also follow the example of their neighbors who have stricter rules on a given topic.

For example, Washington and Oregon can follow British Columbia’s rules to phase in zero-emissions vehicles, which are now North America’s most stringent. Sales of electric cars shot past the province’s original 2025 target by 2020, so it moved up its gasoline and diesel vehicle phaseout. Automotive suppliers’ sales must be 90% carbon-free by 2030 — triple British Columbia’s previous target.

And Oregon and British Columbia can adopt the policy innovation in Washington’s new cap and trade law, which sets annual caps for carbon pollution from major industries and creates a market requiring them to buy permits for every ton of carbon they release.

Existing carbon markets, such as California’s, allow more pollution than they should by giving regulated industries credit for financing carbon-cutting activities such as forest conservation, critics say. Weak or faulty rules for such “carbon offsets” allow market players to overstate the pollution cuts behind them. But Washington’s new Climate Commitment Act includes a seemingly failsafe mechanism to combat such manipulation.

Offsets used to comply with Washington’s program may still prove unreliable or ephemeral. But it aims to limit the damage by ratcheting back the amount of pollution permitted each year, below what’s allowed by law. Even if some companies fail, the state achieves its goal. In short, faulty offsets should not undermine the state’s emissions targets.

PHOTO Biochar.jpeg

Tim Matsui

Tom McCoy, cofounder and chief executive officer of C6 Forest to Farm with sawmill dust, which the nonprofit is converting to charcoal that can sequester carbon, as well as serve to add soil nutrients to agriculture. Ultimately the nonprofit intends to produce its ‘biochar’ with small-diameter trees and slash from forest thinning operations, creating revenue for local forest restoration projects.

Gas off!

Cascadia’s least-finished climate business is the growing use of so-called “natural” gas. That’s where Washington Gov. Inslee’s 2022 efforts will be focused on that area. Many new homes and businesses are heated with natural gas, making buildings the state’s fastest-growing source of emissions. All told, Washington state projects that it needs further policies or mandates that can cut 6.4 million metric tons of carbon — about 13% of the emissions reduction required by 2030.

Anna Lising, Inslee’s senior climate advisor, said that the governor has laid out several strategies to reduce gas consumption in buildings by 2022. They include strengthening the state building code to promote high-efficiency electric devices such as heat pump that can heat. And cool homes and businesses, and seeking legislation to apply the state’s energy performance standards to cover a wider range of buildings.

Oregon and Washington should take stronger action to end gas hookups in new buildings. Washington legislation to end electricity was blocked last year due to anti-electrification lobbying by PSE and other gas-distributing utilities, such as Avista, as well as some unions representing their members.

The natural gas industry’s political power really shows in Oregon. Gov. Kate Brown directed the state’s Public Utility Commission to “leverage” the state’s nascent carbon pricing program to “advance decarbonization.” Environmentalists looked to the PUC to respond with a broad inquiry into how the state can phase out natural gas. Instead, the PUC focused on how carbon pricing might affect gas prices and consumers.

A July 2021 filing led by attorneys at Portland-based Lewis & Clark Law School’s Green Energy Institute raised concerns that the PUC’s inquiry would be “driven by” utilities, which have a vested interest in selling more gas.

Smaller efforts are better than no effort at all gas bans at the local levelIn 2022, they will be needed to ensure that the state has a long-term success. “There needs to be a little more work done at the municipal level, more pressure on utilities to see writing on the wall, before we’ll get state action,” he says.

And despite the United Nations secretary-general’s appeal for an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure, and some local wins to stop it in Cascadia, new projects keep squeaking through. That’s especially true in British Columbia, where construction is underway on a liquefied natural gas (LNG) megaproject and a gas pipeline to feed it that’s being driven through unceded First Nations territory without consent. (Not to mention Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion which would deliver seven-times more diluted oil from Alberta to tankers at Vancouver and Washington refineries.

British Columbia could continue to develop fossil fuels. Additional LNG plantsAnd expansions could still go forward, encouraged by the province’s growing subsidies for natural gas drilling and muscular repression of fossil fuel protests. The province’s police force – a unit of the RCMP – arrests members of sovereign First Nations who seek to block the Coastal GasLink pipeline from crossing their traditional territories, while the government does little to enforce environmental protection laws violated by the project.

Police in British Columbia recently adopted this policy. began arresting journalists documenting First Nations protests.

PHOTO Coastal GasLink Protest.jpeg

Amanda Follett Hosgood

At a protest against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project in February, Freda Huson, a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwut’en First Nation, was the last person singing by a sacred fire when she was arrested by police. The policy included tactical squad officers armed with rifles and handlers with dogs, arriving in a convoy of more than 30 vehicles as a helicopter circled overhead — An example of BC’s increasingly muscular protest takedowns.

Take action

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs urged British Columbia to stop investing its money in gas production during the recent COP26 global talks on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland. Stewart Phillip, the group’s president and grand chief of the Okanagan Nation, called the wildfires, heat dome, crop failures and dwindling salmon stocks that British Columbia is experiencing a “warning sign that the window for meaningful climate action is narrowing.”

In spite of such warnings, there’s always a risk that politics could swing against action, threatening the limited momentum that Cascadia’s energy transition has mustered. If Republicans win back control over Congress and the White House they could end federal support for Washington and Oregon.

Oregon’s climate policies are particularly vulnerable to political winds. Many of its efforts — including the nearly finalized carbon fee program — are backstopped by a 2020 executive order by Gov. Brown. That could mean that her commitment could be dissolved if she is forced to resign.

A leading contender to replace the term-limited governor in next year’s election is state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a conservative Democrat who helped defeat cap and trade legislation, saying it could “cripple” Oregon’s economy. Johnson accepted more than $100,000 from energy-intensive industries.

If there’s a silver lining to 2021’s disastrous weather, it’s that more Cascadians appear to be ready for action. While decades can be lost one at a time, civil right activism and other social movements have shown they can be won with relentless action one year after the next.

Angus Duncan, a Portland-based climate policy consultant and former chair of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, prefaced his action shortlist saying that there are “innumerable actions, large and small, that should be taken immediately or sooner.” Actions that he says are “practical, economic and achievable” with “only politics and inertia in the way.”

We have selected 25 after consulting with Duncan, as well as several dozen labor and business leaders, experts, activists, and government officials.

25 Climate actions required in 2022


1) Governments can treat climate change as a crisis by staffing up and accelerating rulemaking to implement new laws and policies ASAP, as with Washington’s speedy 18-month rollout of its carbon cap and trade program.

2) Agencies and utilities can factor in the climate cost inactionBy adding a social cost of carbonfor any resulting carbon emission. Long-term planning in British Columbia can be more expensive. They charge C$170/ton to carbon emissions that are expected in 2030.

3) Governments can recognize through executive orders, resolutions, or new statutes that climate changes threaten constitutionally protected rights of life, liberty, property, and equality. This will help to support efforts by environmental litigants. hold industries and governments accountable for carbon pollution.

4) Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality can set the state’s 2030 carbon cap at 50% of 1990 emissionsThis is in line with the pace and scale of reductions recommended by climate scientists. Oregon’s overall goal is to cut emissions 45% from 1990 levels by 2035.

5) British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy can include emissions from all power consumption — including imports — in its 2022 greenhouse gas inventory.

6) Washington’s Legislature can re-pass provisions vetoed by Gov. Jay Inslee would like to see enhanced consultation with Tribes regarding energy projects on traditional territories. This is in recognition of the disproportionate harm they continue to suffer from hydropower dams and other energy developments.


Leah Nash

Standing before a row of the more than 2,900 industrial-scale wind turbines that tap the Columbia River Gorge’s powerful gales, Elaine Harvey poses for a portrait holding a ka’pin, a traditional tool for digging edible and medicinal roots. The turbines supply low-carbon electricity, but Harvey says they’ve also brought fences and ‘no trespassing’ signs to her band’s traditional lands. Her band is allowed to gather traditional foods only by one landowner.


7) Utilities regulators may require that flats have cost-effective solar energy installation commercial rooftops, over parking lotsAnd along highwaysin utility investment plans.

8) Government siting agencies and public lands agencies can expedite evaluation of new or expanded transmission lines. tap more low-cost, high-reliability wind powerFrom Alberta and the Rocky Mountain states.

9) Government leaders, regulators, and utilities can all help Western power grid operationPushing for multistate negotiations to an opt-in market for day-ahead power trading, organized by California’s transmission operator, as well as an enhanced backup power-sharing systemNorthwest Power Pool is a voluntary association for utilities that organized the event.

10) Utilities commissions can require blending of hydrogen into natural gas pipelines — as European gas utilities do — to ease delivery of zero-carbon hydrogen fuel made with renewable electricity to industries and heavy vehicles.

11) Utilities commissions can order gas distributors in Washington or Oregon to reduce natural gas consumption by increasing natural gas use methane captured from rotting vegetation, animal waste and landfills. Capturing and burning methane slashes by 80 times the warming it can cause over the first 20 years after its release into Earth’s atmosphere. British Columbia requires gas firms to deliver 15% renewable fuel by 2030.


David Ryder

Passengers wait to board Sounder trains at King Street Station, Seattle, Washington on November 15, 2020.


12) State and provincial transportation agencies can set guidelines for spending infrastructure dollars — including billions in new U.S. federal funds — that exclude highway expansion, and legislatures can forgo earmarking highway expansion.

13) Cities and regional governments may adopt Corvallis, Oregon’s zero-fare transit modelTo increase mobility and decrease driving.

14) Washington and Oregon regulators can adopt British Columbia’s BC’s faster vision for zero-emissions carsThe law mandates that 90% of clean-car sales be made by 2030. It also encourages efforts to ensure that cleaner cars are affordable for all.

15) The statesAnd province can tap federal broadband funding — $65 billion in the U.S. infrastructure package and Canada’s C$2.7 billion set-aside — to expand access to virtual meetings and classes, cut driving, and boost rural economies.

16) Cities and regional governments can reduce the carbon pollution caused by aviation. limiting airport expansionPublicly tracking aviation emissions in local greenhouse gases inventories. This includes all fuel pumped at airports as well as extra warming caused by jet contrails.


Leah Nash

Francisco Ramos is a soccer fan in Northeast Portland’s Cully neighborhood. His room is heated and cooled with a heat pump (top left). Until recently, he relied on three space heaters that used so much electricity that they regularly tripped his home’s breakers.


17) Utilities regulators can make all homes or businesses more energy efficient. eligible for rebates on high-efficiency electric appliances — including those with gas furnaces — and Washington and Oregon can end utility incentives to install gas appliances.

18) All levels of government can strengthen building codes require electric appliances and heat pumpsAll new construction should be built with gas-burning equipment instead.

19) British Columbia’s Utilities Commission can exempt households that add heat pumps or electric cars from paying premium rates triggered by higher electricity consumption — an unintended disincentive to using cleaner energy.

20) Washington and British Columbia are able to end single-family urban zoning. Oregon did in 2019And California did this yearTo create denser, car-dependent communities with more housing.

21. Legislators can amend forestry codes in order to promote thinning, and less frequent harvests. reducing fire risk, increasing lumber yields and maximizing carbon storage.


Dan DeLong

Melissa Malott is the executive director of Communities for a Healthy Bay. She poses at Commencement Bay in Tacoma (Wash.), Monday, November 8, 2021. The background shows a storage facility that stores fossil fuels.


22) It is possible to have more local governments pass bans on new and expanded fossil fuel operationsSuch as refineries or liquefied gas plants.

23) Political parties and politicians can swear off oil, gas, and coal companies, lobbyists, or executives, reducing their risk of being robbed. outsized influence on U.S.And Canadian politics.

24) The state attorneys general or provincial solicitor general may launch or expand legal actions against fossil fuel company for actions they have taken that caused the climate crisis.

25) The British Columbia government may end growing subsidies for natural gas drilling in the province’s northeast, Cascadia’s hotspot for fossil fuel extraction.

SOURCES: InvestigateWest analysis with input from experts and activists, including Andrea Rodgers and Anna Lising, Dan Woynillowicz and Deric Gruen. InvestigateWest asked for input from other people from industry, government and academia.

Copyright 2021 InvestigateWest


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