Myths and Facts about Capping Climate Change Pollution

You’ve heard some unsubstantiated rumors. Here are the facts.
This post is 39 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Author’s note: Some folks in the Oregon legislature have been fretting about falsehoods lately. I wrote this up to help inform a hearing on climate bills in Salem on April 14th.

Oregonians are already paying for climate change, through damaged shellfish, lost snowpack, and increased wildfires. Climate models predict that, without urgent action, the Oregon drought could morph into something like the California mega-drought. It’s time to act. Don’t let false rumors—often circulated by entrenched fossil fuel interests tying to protect their profits—trip Oregon up on the path to clean energy. Get the facts.

MYTH: “Making polluters pay will wreck the economy.”

FACT: Portland State University’s modeling shows that holding polluters accountable and reinvesting the money in schools and roads will grow jobs and wages, particularly in rural Oregon.

It isn’t just economic modeling; years of real real-world experience show that economies survive and thrive when polluters pay. Nine northeast states, British Columbia, California, and Quebec have all been making polluters pay for years, and their economies have kept pace with other parts of the United States and Canada where polluters still spew for free. California has been growing jobs faster than other states. Europe has cut pollution for ten years while growing GDP. Here’s the evidence: Read more »


Failure to Report

A pattern of secrecy by major oil train hauler puts public at risk.
This post is 64 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails

The first commuters were just beginning to trickle over the Magnolia Bridge near downtown Seattle as the short summer night was warming to gray. Probably none of them realized just how narrowly they escaped disaster that morning.

Below them, a BNSF locomotive pulling 97 tank cars—each laden with at least 27,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken formation of North Dakota—came to a halt under the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle. Three cars had derailed. It was July 24th of 2014.

The time was 1:50 AM.

What happened next—or more precisely, what didn’t happen—has come to define what appears to be a pattern of secrecy and poor communication by BNSF, troubling habits that put lives in the Northwest at risk. For example, three years earlier when a BNSF hazardous substance train derailed on a Puget Sound beach near Tacoma, the railroad was unresponsive to emergency officials for nearly four hours. Even then, communication lines were so poor that the railroad’s subsequent actions put the first responding firefighters directly into harm’s way for no purpose. Read more »


Weekend Reading 4/10/15

Dolly Parton and oil trains, mycologist superstar in Seattle, and more.
This post is 198 in the series: Weekend Reading
Original illustration by Nina Montenegro of ghosttide.com.


The 12-step method for combating addiction is demonstrably inferior to other treatment strategies, according to this article in Atlantic Monthly.

I don’t always like the Economist, but this tirade against sprawl-generating, wealth-concentrating, fossil-fuel-wasting restrictions on urbanism is spot on, from its diagnosis of the causes of the housing affordability crunch to its call for land-value taxation. Read more »

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Oregon has a climate law implementation question. HB 3470 has an answer.

The Climate Stability & Justice Act would empower Oregon to meet its existing climate goals.
This post is 38 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Most parents are familiar with the slight panic of not knowing if you really have a way to enforce a rule you made for your kids. You’ve been clear that it is not OK to chew gum at the dinner table, but now what? Reach in his mouth and pull the gum out? Carry him to his room? Stop dinner until he complies?

Oregon is facing a similar dilemma: the Beaver state has had climate change pollution goals in law for eight years, but doesn’t have a mechanism to meet the legal pollution limits. Oregon House Bill 3470—the Climate Stability & Justice Act of 2015—would create the framework to fairly and cost-effectively phase out fossil fuels. Here’s why HB 3470 is the bill Oregon has been waiting for: Read more »


Introducing: The Honest Elections Seattle Initiative

A plan to give ordinary voters an equal voice in money-soaked politics.
This post is 16 in the series: What Democracy Looks Like

A coalition last week filed citizens’ Initiative 122 in Seattle that assembles into a single package some of the toughest corruption prevention and clean-election laws found anywhere in the United States. It also adds one startlingly original feature: a campaign funding system called Democracy Vouchers, which gives every voter $100 of coupons to hand over to the candidates of their choice. The idea is so simple and revolutionary it might just start changing politics across Cascadia and beyond. If the coalition can gather about 30,000 signatures, which seems likely, the measure will appear on ballots in November. It stands a good chance of passing.

What’s in the initiative?

Honest Elections Seattle closes the revolving door: City elected officials and their top aides may not lobby their former colleagues for three years after leaving office.

Honest Elections Seattle tightens the cap on big money, lowering the limits per contributor down to $500. That’s among the lowest limits in the United States. Read more »


Weekend Reading 4/3/15

Strategies for writing on climate-denier candidates, how test scores are a metric of income inequality, environmental hip-hop, and more.
This post is 197 in the series: Weekend Reading
Original illustration by Nina Montenegro of ghosttide.com.


It’s never too early to look forward to the 2016 elections (grooooaaaan), but as the media rev up for candidate coverage, NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen offers some thoughtful strategies for writing about climate-denier candidates.

A stunning new project, Humans for Humans, from Canadian homeless advocacy group Raising the Roof, features short videos of people experiencing homelessness reading so-called “mean tweets” about the homeless. They respond to some of them, sharing difficult and extremely varied stories of their respective paths to homelessness. Read more »

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What the Oso Landslide Teaches Us About Oil Trains

Landslides along Puget Sound rail lines pose serious risk.
This post is 63 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails

March 22 marked the first anniversary of the landslide in Oso, Washington. A water-logged mountain slope gave way, unleashing staggering volumes of earth and debris that swept across a small community and killed 43 people. Oso was an awful lesson in the destructive power of slides.

It’s a lesson that bears special consideration as the Northwest considers proposals to add dozens of hazardous coal and oil trains to coastal rail lines that are routinely plagued by slides.

We know that when oil trains derail they are prone to spills and catastrophic fires, mishaps that would be very challenging to address in many of the remote locations traversed by the main rail route along the northern shores of Puget Sound. Although the dry winter of 2014-15 maintained mostly stable earth along the rail lines, the region is not always so fortunate. During the wetter winter of 2012-13, for example, hillsides collapsed repeatedly over the tracks, forcing officials to cancel 206 passenger trains over 28 days. Prior winters had also yielded meaningful delays due to landslides. Read more »

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What If Polluters Paid and You Got the Money?

Two climate bills would give every Oregonian a $500-$1,500 dividend check every year.
This post is 37 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

What if we could click our ruby slippers and transport ourselves to a magical place where polluters pay and we all get checks in the mail? The Oregon legislature is considering two bills that would take us there.

When designing a program to make climate polluters pay, one of the most important decisions is what to do with the money. Northeast states and California invest in energy efficiency and transportation. British Columbia gives tax cuts to people and businesses. Two Oregon bills contemplate mailing out dividend checks. If Oregon passed a polluters-pay-plus-dividend bill, the air would no longer be a free dumping ground for pollution, clean energy would be on an even playing field with fossil fuels, and each Oregonian would get a check for $500-$1,500 every year. Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Here are the details, Q & A style.

1. What are these Oregon dividend bills and what do they do?

HB 3176 would charge fossil fuel sellers a fee for each ton of pollution, starting at $30 per ton and increasing by inflation plus $10 per ton every year. All the money would go into a Trust Fund. Each September, the Department of Revenue would mail every Oregon taxpayer and taxpayer dependent a check for an equal share of the money.

HB 3250 would do roughly the same thing, but instead of creating a set fee schedule it would create a set number of pollution permits that fossil fuel sellers could buy in an auction. Each year, less pollution would be allowed and fewer permits would be available. By 2050, Oregon’s climate pollution would be 85 percent below 1990 levels. As permits become scarce, the price would go up.

2. Why are there two bills? Is one better than the other?

Both bills lead to the Emerald City, but they encounter different lions, tigers, and bears along the way. Read more »


Bertha on Track to Resume Tunneling

Area grandmother determined to finish the job.

After being sidelined for nearly 16 months from her hobby of building infrastructure projects underneath major cities, area grandmother Bertha Slocum is said to be on track to resume her latest endeavor: building a massive highway tunnel along the Seattle waterfront.

“After I retired, I had a lot of extra time to devote to my crafts projects,” said Bertha. “I realized that tunneling under Seattle was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I figured, hey, I’m not getting any younger. So I went for it!”

Bertha won the tunneling contract in 2012, beating out major international construction firms on the promise of delivering the project on time and on budget. But in late 2013 she was forced to put her hobby on pause in favor of training for a national seniors’ shuffleboard-bridge-knitting triathlon.

“You know, I guess I just kind of overdid it with the tunnel too, and I decided I needed to take a break,” she admitted in a recent interview. “But I’m no quitter! I’m going to get back to it real soon. You can count on it!”

Construction engineers remain skeptical, and some have even proposed replacing Bertha with a tunneling machine, a move that Bertha has labeled wasteful and unnecessary. “You don’t need any $2 billion machine to dig that tunnel. All you need is good ol’ Bertha!”

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Smarter Street Talk

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways road tested messages about safe streets. Here's what they learned.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards
Eric and Sam. Photo used by permission.

Eric and Sam. Photo used by permission.

Policy solutions often come with their own vocabulary—acronyms, insider shorthand, and jargon. It can be alienating or confusing. Worse, policy-speak can risk obscuring the most important messages: why solutions matter and the people who should care.

The folks at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, a local coalition of safe street community groups, have seen this first hand. At countless public meetings and in hundreds of community conversations, they’ve seen how the wrong message can confuse, put off, or even backfire, pitting otherwise friendly stakeholders against one another.

They set out to find a better way. They listened, they observed, they used trial and error. And with years of road testing, they’ve learned what words and messages work to bring people together, build support for smart solutions, and create more civil and productive public discourse around how we design our streets.

The new rules of the road they’ve developed help break bad habits and more successfully engage people’s interest, values, and emotions. Here’s what they learned:

Read more »