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Salem Climate Action Plan Raises Major Concerns for Local Salem Business Community

Written by Tom Hoffert on Feb. 11th, 2022
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In 2018, Salem City Council called for the preparation of a climate change plan in their 2019 Policy Agenda to stem the effects greenhouse gas emissions have on our community. The resulting efforts from this goal progressed into the assembly of the City of Salem’s Climate Action Plan Task Force.

What is a Climate Action Plan?

The Salem Climate Action Plan is a strategic plan which seeks to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. The plan has been developed over the course of 18 months with the partnership of a task force consisting of 40 volunteer members, representing a cross-section of vested leaders and their represented organizations. The task force served to provide guidance in strategic initiatives for the city council to consider at their December 6th Council meeting. In addition, the City of Salem hired a consulting group based out of Nebraska, named Verdis Group, to help shepherd the process. The task force developed a comprehensive list of strategies to provide the city with direction on how to meet the overarching mission of greenhouse gas emission reduction. This process was broken into numerous stages, from visioning and community engagement to its current stage, implementation.

A business community concerned

Though many of the strategies currently contained in the draft Climate Action Plan may be necessary to create a cleaner environment, a particular proposal raises major concern for Salem’s business community. A proposed ban on natural gas hookups for new residential and commercial developments leaves a substantial and affordable power source out in the cold. The current strategy proposal notes a ban on new development only. The larger Climate Action Plan alludes to an all-out ban on natural gas at a point in the near future. Natural gas provides Salem residents and businesses with a highly affordable, reliant, and resilient power generation source to heat homes, appliances, and buildings. The cost of retrofitting an industrial building would be extremely costly in and of itself, with the month-over-month cost of a fully electric grid would create a major ripple effect in businesses operating costs. This impending threat could force many of Salem’s processing, manufacturing, and restaurant/hospitality employers to seek refuge outside of Salem. The loss of these stable living wage jobs would have significant impacts on our local taxing entities and stunt future investment into our city.

If natural gas is a vital energy source for local businesses, why would Salem wish to ban it?

Many members of the city’s task force felt, without question, the only way Salem can be net-zero on emissions by 2050 is through an unprecedented approach of passing policies that ban natural gas usage in Salem. This theory

relies on a premise that innovation of renewable natural gas resources and carbon-capturing technologies will not be in existence at some near point in the future. Additionally, the process did not account for the current state rulemaking, in which the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) is set to put forth for natural gas utilities early in 2022. This rulemaking will define how the state will reach carbon-neutral by the year 2050. I was disappointed the task force was unwilling to reconsider a strategy proposing a ban on natural gas a few more months to gain this clarity from the state, as a fully informed task force would be much more impactful than operating under speculation of the state’s rulemaking.

Concluding Thoughts

At the Salem Chamber, we believe in helping local businesses prosper so our entire community may thrive. We adamantly advocate for an inclusive, strong, and sustainable economic foundation, allowing our residents to receive paychecks and proudly call Salem their home. A key component to this belief is intentional work in ensuring Salem is livable for all those who currently reside here and for those who may someday wish to relocate their family or business to our community. The hope is to find ways to provide businesses with incentives to achieve our community goals in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We caution the prescription of regulatory policies which would have a catastrophic effect on downstream economic forces. The displacement of local employees and businesses to outside communities without similar regulations is troubling for a healthy economic ecosystem in Salem. As servant leaders, the Climate Action Task Force and City Council ought to find the most pragmatic and sustainable policies in serving our residents. I encourage readers to track this developing conversation at www.salemchamber.org and by engaging within our organization as a member. We are proud to represent over 1,000 local small businesses and their over 40,000 employees.

Tom Hoffert

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