New report outlines strategies to tackle climate change in Multnomah County

April 7, 2022

Following historic wildfires and extreme weather events, a new report to the Board of Commissioners outlines new strategies to deal with the deepening climate change crisis. Members of the Advisory Committee on Sustainability and Innovation (ACSI) presented their recommendations on Tuesday, April 5 to the Board of Commissioners.

“Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed multiple, almost unprecedented events: the 2020 wildfire; last February’s ice storm that left hundreds of thousands of people without power; last summer’s deadly heat dome,” said Mara Gross, ACSI 2021 President.

Recommendations include increasing Multnomah County’s tree canopy, addressing inequities in street safety, mobilizing federal transportation funding for sustainable projects, reducing wood smoke and diesel emissions, improving our food system and improving water health.

The briefing took place just days after the release of a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Time is running out to achieve the UN climate goals. Achieving these goals, the IPCC warned, will require immediate and unprecedented action by every community.

“It’s important that we take your recommendations on board and really tackle the larger issues that we face around the bigger issues of climate change and things like heat spells,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said. to presenters. Commissioner Vega Pederson has acted as liaison to the advisory committee for the past five years.

In 2010, the council established the Advisory Committee to promote sustainable policies and actions and to advise the county on regional, state or national sustainability policy issues. The group is made up of community stewards, who bring their sustainability expertise to promote new ideas and best practices in Multnomah County.

Each year, the committee makes recommendations to the Board of Directors to guide the county and its programs in achieving its sustainability goals. The committee has played a role in helping the county advocate for local and state air quality improvements, launching the first state-rated clean energy program, and developing the county’s climate action plan.

“They have been flexible in thinking about new solutions and ways of thinking about the sustainability challenges we face as the climate continues to change,” said Knowledge Murphy, sustainability coordinator in the Office of Sustainability at the county.


Over 40% of Multnomah County’s climate pollution comes from transportation. This makes transportation one of the most effective targets for affecting the climate while improving health and safety, Gross said.

With $1.2 billion set to flow into the region through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the report urges the county to leverage these resources to invest in transportation options together reliable, affordable and durable. The report also encourages the county to oppose road expansion and to continue to conduct a thorough analysis of the health impacts of freeway projects.

The report also notes the intersectionality of transportation issues. According to a Multnomah County REACH program report, traffic accidents are the third leading cause of death in the county (7.9 per 100,000). The injury rate is nearly double among blacks (13.9 per 100,000).

“There is intersectionality in everything we do in the county, and this is yet another example that is so important and so powerful,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said.

Climate and energy

The report urges Multnomah County to use the resources and skills at its disposal to prioritize community resilience, safety and well-being in the wake of climate change. The committee used a climate resilience lens, focusing on how county support can be used to help people resist climate change, said ACSI 2021 Co-Chair Amanda Zuniga.

In one example, Zuniga applauded the county’s energy assistance program, which preserved access to utilities for community members unable to pay due to the pandemic. There is a link between climate and health, she said, and various socio-economic factors have historically prevented BIPOC, low-income communities and other historically excluded communities from accessing these resources.

“It’s life-saving work when you think about the deadly heat dome in 2021 and our cold winters,” Zuniga said. “We call for continued advocacy and prioritization of this work through county policies and resources.”

Multnomah County can also help reduce wood smoke pollution, according to the report. Currently, 3% of households in Multnomah County rely on wood burning as a source of heat, Zuniga said. The county could optimize homes’ energy use by helping them switch to clean energy options, such as heat pumps.

Mitigation of diesel pollution is another priority. Multnomah County’s own data shows that BIPOC communities are up to three times more likely to be exposed to diesel particulates than white residents. The county’s Clean Air Construction Procurement Standard is an attempt to address this issue, which aims to reduce diesel emissions on construction sites.

“The county has been a leader here,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “I don’t think people in the community as a whole see the county’s work here as clearly, or see the opportunities that we have. But the county has really been a leader in this area.

Food and water

All living things need food and water, Zuniga said. The report examines ways – traditional and modern – to create a more sustainable future for food and water systems. A major recommendation encourages the decolonization of food and water sources, including renaming the Sauvie Island Bridge to honor the island’s first indigenous inhabitants.

Noting the loss of farmland in the county over time, the report calls for sustainably cultivating the land to grow food and create access to work for historically marginalized communities. The committee also urges leaders to improve food security by promoting a local approach and avoiding waste from agricultural fields, grocery stores and restaurants.

Pesticides have also contributed to stormwater pollution, the report says, highlighting the need for stormwater treatment. Pollutants can enter waterways from roads and buildings and far too many storm drains offer no treatment, Zuniga told commissioners.

With respect to water, the Committee encourages the prioritization of fish passages and the replacement of culverts in certain sectors where fish populations are threatened. “I know there are several culverts in East County that have been replaced and we’re actually seeing fish where we’ve never seen any before,” commissioner Lori Stegmann said.

The Committee submitted its recommendations in a six-page letter to the Board: 2021 Advisory Committee on Sustainability & Innovation Board Letter.

In the coming weeks, the county plans to release an after-action report assessing its response to the 2021 extreme heat incident. The county is also preparing for the possibility of more extreme weather to come this summer, the chairperson said. Deborah Kafoury.

“We are already anticipating what could be another summer of extreme heat,” President Kafoury said, adding that public health, emergency management and the Joint Office of Homeless Services are preparing “to leave before the next summer”.

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