Democracy wins in Portland’s 2015 Climate Action Plan

PDX people link arms in a dance that celebrates the earth.

PDX people link arms in a dance that celebrates the earth.

Last week the city of Portland voted to pass the 2015 Climate Action Plan (CAP). Thanks to everyone who put time and thought into this process! The changes you proposed were heard and many will be put into action. Take a minute to celebrate this win, and look forward to the many ways 350PDX will be working with Portland to carry through on their promises. As someone who often thinks about the many ways our democracy is failing, it was incredibly powerful to see people lift up their voices and have their words take shape in government policy.

Your comments created change in the Climate Action Plan!

  • Meatless Monday
  • Divestment by 2020
  • An export policy by 2020
  • All bureaus must reduce carbon emissions until atmospheric CO2 is back to 350ppm

LaVeta Gilmore Jones, community organizer for Salt and Light Lutheran Church (Leaven), leads the rally participants in song.

The hearing kicked off with a rally hosted by the Climate Action Coalition, a coalition of environmental, faith-based, and social justice groups from the Portland area. Despite passing rain, roughly 80 people gathered outside City Hall to sing, dance and hear speeches from community leaders on the progress we’ve made and the fights still to come. One of the most empowering moments happened when everyone in the crowd came together in a circle and linked arms, symbolizing the power of individuals to build a movement strong enough to tackle the reality of the climate crisis and win.

After an obligatory hour of corporate-sponsored endorsements for the CAP, the council opened the floor to a wave of amazing testimonies from community members who brought personal stories to the hearing. A local surgeon, Patrick O’Herron M.D., focused on CAP’s ambition, comparing the climate crisis to an emergency medical procedure, “As a surgeon, when I see severe trauma or a gunshot wound the best course of action is to act boldly.” Another speaker, a mother accompanied by her young daughter, spoke about her faith in the council to make the right decision and ban fossil fuel exports, saying “I’m here because of my daughter Joan.” Joan piped up too, “Keep fossil fuels in the ground!”

[To be clear, the council did not vote to ban exports at this time.]


Here are some of our wins:

Divestment from fossil fuels

Portland committed to establish a divestment policy by 2020. Two years of hard work by the 350PDX divestment team means the city is now forced to pay attention. Their decision shows that the scale is starting to tip towards divestment activists and Portland is one step closer to being free from the grasp of the fossil fuel industry.


The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) created an Equity Working Group to advise writing the 2015 CAP, which means that the CAP intentionally uses equity as a lens to understand climate change. The CAP both recognizes and prioritizes taking steps to address the disproportionate burden of climate change that is borne by low-income communities and communities of color. At this point in the game it’s crucial that any work on climate change involves a climate justice framework, and Portland has made it clear that the city is ready to work towards that end.

Carbon Pricing

The council heard several testimonies from community members advocating for carbon pricing with a dividend that is paid out to residents in the form of a check. A dividend is a way to counterbalance the regressive effects of carbon pricing, and would create an equitable economic solution to reduce carbon emissions. The council voted to pass a resolution from Portland to the state of Oregon asking to implement statewide carbon pricing with a dividend.

Export Policy

The council voted to begin writing a comprehensive fossil fuel export policy since there is none that currently exists in Portland. In fact, once Portland creates this policy it will be the first major American city to do so! In their testimonies many community members emphasized the need for Portland to create an export policy so that future projects like Pembina wouldn’t have to be case-by-case battles. A plan to write a fossil fuel export policy by 2020 is included in the 2015 CAP, and it’s clear that this is the next big initiative ahead of the BPS. The policy should look at “lifecycle emissions, safety, economics, neighborhood livability and the environment” and “oppose exports of coal and oil through Oregon.”


What’s next?

350PDX is excited to continue engaging the city on their climate action commitments, especially passing a comprehensive export policy and eventually banning all fossil fuel export, storage and transfer in Portland. In the short term, we need to remain strong against Pembina and all other dirty fuel developments in the works. The CAP is a good beginning, but 350PDX is already working with the Climate Action Coalition and the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to create realistic metrics to measure its achievements and hold Portland to her commitments.


Know a lot about policy? Angry that thousands of tons of coal are still being exported through Oregon every week? Want to get involved some other way? Visit our volunteer page for more information.