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The weight of scientific evidence is now so overwhelming that even a recently released U.S. government report maintains that climate change exists and that it’s caused largely by human activity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the Trump administration’s full-speed reversal of national policies to address the growing problem.

More than ever, it’s now up to state and local governments to fill the policy void. The latest move occurred last November in Oregon, where Governor Kate Brown (center in photo) signed a sweeping executive order to reduce energy use. Oregon joins California, Washington and several other states in laying out specific climate change action plans.

 

Where the Action Is

While individual states have long been involved in energy efficiency and renewable energy activities, they have only recently begun collaborating. A carbon-trading market, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), has been active on the East Coast since 2008. The RGGI is comprised of nine states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

America’s west coast states also have a long history of constructive moves to improve energy efficiency. Earlier this year, California extended it’s groundbreaking carbon cap-and-trade program. In Oregon, another cap-and-trade initiative, the Clean Energy Jobs bill, will be considered in 2018. Passage of this legislation would link Oregon to California’s Western Climate Initiative program, allowing the smaller state to join a much larger carbon-credit trading market. Washington state’s legislature plans to introduce a reworked carbon tax and investment bill in 2018 after failing to pass similar legislation in 2017. If successful, it would be the first carbon tax in the U.S. These efforts to place an economic value on carbon pollution will inspire market-based solutions to the climate problem.

 

Oregon’s Executive Order

Strongly supported by the Oregon Zero Energy Building Coalition, Executive Order 17-20 begins with state-owned buildings and equipment by requiring that energy efficiency must be improved in all existing state-owned buildings. New state office and commercial buildings permitted after 2022 are required to be carbon neutral. A strategy is to be developed for “plug-loads” that aren’t covered by building codes. All specifications governing agency equipment purchases must set a minimum level of energy efficiency.

One of the most important things for Oregon is that cities in Oregon need the support of the state to move forward. Statewide code improvements will empower local jurisdictions to reduce their carbon footprint. Building codes are another major area of activity. By 2023, all new residential buildings must have energy performance equivalent to the Zero Energy Ready Home standard. The first step in this direction has already been taken with energy improvements included in the 2017 residential code. Commercial buildings also will see higher efficiency requirements in the 2022 building code revision— a process that has already begun.

In addition, all residential buildings must be “solar ready” by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2022. Parking areas at commercial buildings must be capable of having a Level 2 electrical vehicle charger installed. Industries with characteristically high energy use, such as cannabis grows and data centers, will receive special attention and technical support from state agencies to reduce their energy consumption. The governor will receive a report by 2018 detailing ways to improve appliance efficiency standards. High-efficiency water fixtures will be required by 2020. Commercial buildings will be expected to increase efficiency and on-site reuse of water for irrigation.

Programs for existing homes will also be expanded through the efforts of state agencies. Special attention will be given to affordable housing by developing a ten-year plan to capture “maximum savings” from the state’s stock of existing multifamily housing units. This might include new technologies or application of current best practices.  A pilot program will be launched to replace manufactured homes that are aging and unrepairable with new, energy-efficient units. State agencies are directed to work with Energy Trust of Oregon to expand pilot programs based on measured savings, such as pay for performance.

Energy and water use must be analyzed, including a life-cycle cost assessment, as part of any capital improvement to state-owned buildings. State agencies are expected to develop a cost analysis tool and implement the directives using the least cost methods. The tool would likely be based on the Facility Life Cycle Model used by the Washington State Office of Financial Management which was in turn derived from the Building Life Cycle Cost (BLCC5) tool developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). High life cycle cost could prompt any of these directives to be deferred for one year or until the next code cycle.

 

Zero Emission Vehicles

In a companion order, Governor Brown aims to increase the number of zero emission vehicles registered in the state from 16,000 in 2016 to 50,000 by 2020. The emphasis of this order is to build a charging infrastructure and help shift purchasing habits toward electric vehicles.

To accomplish this, state-owned facilities will receive charging stations for the state fleet as well as employees and public visitors. Agencies are directed to add more electric vehicles to their fleets, and support legislative changes to improve charging infrastructure and electric vehicle purchases. And, as mentioned above, all new residential and commercial construction will be required to be ready to support the installation of electric car chargers.

 

Local Action

Fifteen states are members of the U.S. Climate Alliance that formed to fill the void created when the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement. This is a clear indication that policy momentum on climate action has shifted from the federal level to states. Many municipalities have passed their own climate action plans. While not as sweeping, state and municipal actions can be more effective on the ground because they are more tailored to the local political and economic conditions. The most significant result of the current administration’s abdication of climate responsibility has been to stimulate states and municipalities to take effective action. Find out what your state and community are doing. If you are in need of some suggestions for taking local action, please contact us. We’re here to help.