By Marina Riker

The Bulletin

The Bend City Council is on the verge of adopting a plan to tackle climate change in Bend, but there’s still a big question of how much it’s going to cost.

On Wednesday, Bend city councilors are taking up a resolution that would set goals for the city and community to reduce fossil fuel emissions and authorize hiring someone to oversee the plan. The proposal also calls for cost-benefit analysis of reducing fossil fuels and how that would affect Bend’s economy, environment and residents. If passed in its current form, the goals outlined in the plan would be aspirational and not required.

But when the City Council brought up the plan at a July meeting, some residents questioned whether a city strapped for funding should be giving money to hire someone to oversee a climate change plan.

Bend is currently struggling with an $80 million backlog in road repairs and a big shortage of affordable housing, they said.

The effort to draft a plan came after environmental groups asked the city to develop a policy to prevent climate change. The City Council responded by forming a group in May that started working on the resolution.

The current proposal asks the city to make all of its facilities and operations “carbon neutral,” meaning city operations would emit no greenhouse gases or would need to get offsets — such as through tree plantings or purchasing renewable energy — for any emissions by 2030.

It also asks the city to reduce fossil fuel use 40 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2050. The proposal sets a goal — but nothing mandatory — for Bend businesses and residents to do the same.

Bend is far from the only city grappling with how to deal with climate change. Cities throughout the nation such as Portland and Eugene, and Boulder and Fort Collins in Colorado, have passed laws to tackle climate change by promising to reduce greenhouse gases.

Supporters say Bend’s plan could be a big moneymaker by increasing the city’s desirability for eco-friendly businesses. But some people are skeptical about whether making policies to reduce fossil fuels could drive up costs in the future.

“We have no idea how much that would cost,” said Councilor Victor Chudowsky. “And until we get a handle on it, I don’t think we should commit to those things.”

The proposal calls for the city to pay to find out how much greenhouse gas Bend is emitting and asks for the city to hire someone to oversee sustainability. City Manager Eric King said that at the moment, the city hasn’t determined exactly what that manager would do and how much it would cost to staff the position. Hiring a city staffer such as police officer or firefighter with benefits costs around $100,000 per year, he said.

The proposal also calls for a climate action steering committee, which would outline initial, low-cost projects as well as expensive long-term upgrades. The committee would also be tasked with coming up with city policies and incentive programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But some people worry that could drive costs for businesses and residents. Katelyn Pay, director of government affairs for the Central Oregon Builders Association, said creating rules to require builders to make homes more energy-efficient could increase housing prices in a market where people struggle to find affordable housing.

“Anything that is further regulated or required will be transfered to the buyer,” said Pay, adding that many local builders already try to be environmentally friendly.

Although setting policies to combat climate change may come with some upfront expenses, supporters say the benefits would outweigh the costs in the long run. While the current resolution only sets goals and asks for a committee to plan a strategy, advocates say the measure would spur a communitywide discussion that could improve life in Bend.

For instance, putting more city money toward a bus system or making the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly could be part of the city’s eventual plan, said Mike Riley, executive director of The Environmental Center.

“It’s another reason to be doing the things we’re already talking about,” Riley said. “It’s good for humans. And it also tends to be good for the economy.”

Plus, increasing efficiency means decreasing expenses for the city and residents in the future, Riley said. For instance, converting city lights to LED bulbs or reducing the city’s reliance on vehicles that run on fossil fuels would end up costing taxpayers less money, he said.

The plan could also look into incentive programs, he said. Mesa, Arizona, created a rebate program for homeowners who convert lawns to landscaping that helps to conserve water, while Hawaii has offered tax credits to homeowners who install solar panels.

And some city officials and business owners say promoting sustainable technologies and businesses could help boost Bend’s economy.

“Conservation and economic development though traditionally have been viewed as opposing one another — in the long run, they really can’t,” said Tom Rowley of Economic Development for Central Oregon. “We have to find win-wins and do it together.”

­— Reporter: 541-633-2160,

mriker@bendbulletin.com

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