Opinion » The Mailbox

Paris Agreement: Government should follow industry & not the other way around

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You've probably heard some of these stats before:

The United States is the number-two polluter on the planet according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The top three biggest sources of pollution, according to the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology: Transportation (especially cars and planes), food production (especially meat and dairy), and energy for heating, cooling and running household appliances. These are all industries that are regulated in some form or another.

There's a common pattern when it comes to regulations and commerce. A commercial entity will do something that seems dodgy. Then, a whistleblower comes in and tells someone about it. If enough people raise a red flag, the government comes in to regulate that entity in the name of the public good.

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A corporation may not be perfectly content with all of this, but it seems that in the case of utility companies, they're at least resigned to the fact that regulation is part of their existence. So when the pattern is interrupted or reversed, it's worth taking note.

Take the case of Pacific Power. It is on its way to going coal-free, due to Oregon's "coal-to-clean" law. According to the state's office of Energy and Climate Change, this law will eliminate "out-of-state coal-fired electricity for good by 2030 while increasing renewable energy to 50 percent by 2040. In addition, Oregon will close the last remaining coal plant in the state 20 years early in 2020."

In this state, the people—through their government—demanded cleaner energy and industry followed. We can take solace in the state's commitment, but that solace doesn't extend to the actions of the federal executive branch.

Last week the President announced that the United States would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement. The accord, signed by nearly every country on the planet, is an effort to reduce emissions and combat climate change. It is a landmark piece of worldwide cooperation in an effort to control our environmental fate.

Local utilities, already on board with the coal-to-clean transition, aren't following the federal government on this one. Pacific Power is a perfect example.

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Pacific Power's Senior Vice President Scott Bolton had this to say following that announcement:

"The President's decision doesn't change Pacific Power's strategy—we will continue to focus on delivering reliable, affordable, safe and clean energy to our customers and reducing our carbon footprint. That is what our customers want, and we will work hard to provide it.

"We are putting that commitment into action with our recently announced Energy Vision 2020 that will invest $3.5 billion in new renewable energy by 2020. This new investment is part of our long-term energy plan to expand our investments in clean energy that will both reduce our emissions and our long-term costs. We've been on the road to a cleaner energy future for more than a decade and we're not changing course. We know that investing in renewable energy provides many economic benefits, can reduce costs, lower emissions and offer greater energy independence."

For many people, government regulation is a way to keep industry in check and to protect the public. In the modern national political landscape, however, regulation is a four-letter word. Those who decry the evils of regulation often say it's holding back the marketplace that consumers are demanding something that those regulations won't allow. Yet, to see one of the largest utility providers say, "That is what our customers want," and still, to see our administration go in the opposite direction from even the utility companies, is a part of our bizarre political landscape.

As a consumer, however, you still have a choice to further support renewable power in your community. Pacific Power is one of many utilities that have allowed customers to invest in renewable energy, through its Blue Sky program. While the program doesn't come with the promise that the power you buy will actually come from renewable sources, the money consumers invest in Blue Sky is used to purchase renewable energy certificates. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "RECs are issued when one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity is generated and delivered to the electricity grid from a renewable energy resource."

When power companies, who have the largest upside to avoid change, see the value of renewable energy and of reducing their carbon footprint, it's disheartening to see government leadership move in the opposite direction. But Oregonians can still vote with their pocket books and help utilities stay green.


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