The three most important ways Oregon is fighting climate change

Recent headlines warn that the window is quickly closing to protect our future and preserve a livable planet. In Oregon, we have seen the effects of the climate crisis first-hand:  hundreds of deaths from extreme heat waves; thousands of homes destroyed by wildfire; lakes and rivers drying up before our eyes; farmers without water to grow food; and the toxic algal blooms that shut down the city of Salem’s drinking water system for weeks in 2018.

This is a crisis that calls for action – now. Oregonians should be proud that their state is delivering, along with similar actions in Washington, California and British Columbia.  Together with our west coast neighbors, we make up one-fifth of the world’s economy, and our collective leadership is showing other states and nations how we can get to a vibrant and sustainable future that protects our climate. Here are three of the most significant actions Oregonians are taking now to fight climate change:

We’re electrifying our rides — Zero-emission electric vehicle sales are soaring in Oregon. Sales of ZEVs hit 10% of all new car sales in the state in the last three months of last year. And Oregon is a national leader in helping make EVs affordable to low- and moderate-income households, thanks to strong state and federal incentives that provide rebates up to $15,000 depending on income level. Oregon, Washington and California are all expected to adopt requirements for car manufacturers later this year – pushing them to make 100% of new car sales electric or hydrogen by 2035.

We’re making gasoline and diesel cars and trucks cleaner by cleaning up our fuels. The Clean Fuels Program at DEQ already has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 6.5 million tons since its inception in 2016. The program, which offers incentives to develop affordable fuel alternatives, has fostered a $200 million market in fuels with lower carbon content, such as ethanol and renewable diesel. In rural areas of Oregon, renewable fuels are a big part of a cleaner transportation future. Renewable fuels production and refining are burgeoning industries in Oregon, creating hundreds of new, high-paying jobs. Again, Oregon is doing this along with the entire west coast of the U.S. and Canada – building a major market for this new clean energy economy.

We are ramping down greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas, propane and other fossil fuels. Last year, the Oregon Legislature passed 100% clean energy legislation – HB 2021, which requires dramatic reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity supplied to Oregonians. Similarly, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission last year adopted rules that apply to other uses of natural gas in homes and businesses that will reduce emissions by 90 percent by 2050. 

As a result of these actions, Oregon now has enforceable limits on virtually all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, joining its west coast partners. While some fossil fuel companies are desperately trying to hold on to outdated visions of the future rooted in the past, their time is coming to an end. As Oregon Business for Climate director Tim Miller recently stated in a piece in the Portland Business Journal, “denial is not a sound business strategy.”

The transition to a clean energy future will not happen overnight, and it will require long-term public and private investments over the next 30 years. But we have laid the foundation to build this new sustainable future. As leaders in North America, Oregon and its partners are meeting our responsibility to show the rest of the continent and the rest of the world how to get to where we need to go to keep this world a safe and hospitable place for our children and grandchildren. 

Oregon has a long track record of environmental innovation and leadership, including the Bottle Bill that swept the nation, and our public beach laws that have protected our beautiful coast for future generations. As we celebrate Earth Day later this month, we can be proud that we are also meeting our responsibility to lead on climate.


Richard Whitman
Richard Whitman

Richard Whitman is the Director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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