Individual action is crucial… but is it enough?

A simple but powerful mission guides our work here at The Environmental Center: to embed sustainability into daily life in Central Oregon.

As Peter Geiser, one of our founders, says, “It starts with personal change, then change in the place we live, then change in the world.”

As we celebrate our 30th anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on how our approach to achieving our mission is rapidly evolving. For many years, we focused almost exclusively on helping individuals and businesses take action. Recycle and compost more. Use less energy.  Go solar. Bike to work.

Today, our focus is shifting towards changing systems. We recognize that individual action, at home, work and school remains essential. But individual efforts alone won’t create the change we need to ensure a healthy climate for future generations. We also need to address systemic barriers: the spoken and unspoken rules that shape our decisions and the future of our region.

Take local transportation as an example. Sure, all of us could walk and bike more. But those options don’t feel safe for many people in Bend, and our transit system still provides very limited service. The truth is that our transportation system works well for those who can afford to and are able to drive a car, but not so well for everyone else. Why? Because transportation planning and investments have focused primarily on moving cars rather than moving people.

Another example is the housing market. Inefficient homes with high utility bills waste energy and contribute to high living costs, especially for families on limited incomes. Our housing system still focuses almost exclusively on the cost to build or purchase a home or rent an apartment, rather than the full cost of living in that home or apartment. And decision-makers resist even baby steps in a new direction, such as requiring an energy score (a miles-per-gallon score for home energy use) so that renters and home buyers can know their full living costs.

As we move into our next thirty years of education and advocacy, we’ll still focus on individual action as the first step towards a better future. But we’ll also push for change at the system level. Both are needed to ensure a healthy future for people and the planet.

We hope you’ll join us in bridging the gap between personal change and change in the world. Together, we can take local action to make a world of difference.

Mike Riley, Executive Director

Intersections Ahead

Bend Needs a Transportation System That’s Good for People and the Planet

Our mission is to embed sustainability into daily life in Central Oregon. It’s a large, complex job that intersects with many other economic and social challenges.

I believe sustainability is about relationships—our relationship with the environment that supports us and our relationship with the people with whom we share our planet. These relationships are inseparable. Together, they shape how and where we live, work, play and learn.

The future of Bend’s transportation system is a great example of how focusing on the intersection of environmental and social needs can shape a local community for the better. I currently serve as co-chair of Bend’s city-wide transportation advisory committee (affectionately known as CTAC). We are developing a draft plan to guide investments in Bend’s transportation system through 2040.

I’m advocating for increased investments in sidewalks, bike lanes, transit and safety. Those investments will get more people out of their cars and thereby reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions over the long-term. Equally important, those investments will also ensure that youth, seniors, families who cannot afford to own a car, and people of all abilities can get around town to meet their daily needs for food, shelter, education, employment, health care and recreation.

In other words, I’m advocating for investments that will build a just transportation system for Bend, one that meets the needs of people and the planet.

Do you support a just transportation plan for Bend? If so, I urge you to share your support, first with my fellow CTAC members and then with the Bend City Council, the final decision-makers about Bend’s transportation future. Over the next few weeks, CTAC and the Council will choose criteria to prioritize specific projects and programs as we develop a funding and phasing plan for transportation investments in bend. Your voice can make a difference.

Share your comments in-person at our next CTAC meeting on June 18th and at a special City Council meeting on June 20th. You can also send written comments to

Join me in urging Bend’s leaders to do what’s right for our people and our planet. We can’t care for one without caring for the other.

Action Alert: Think Global, Act Local

A letter from our Executive Director, Mike Riley.

A simple but powerful idea guides our work here at The Environmental Center: Local action can make a world of difference. I’m reminded of its importance as we enter the new year and a new season of decision-making by our elected leaders.

Climate change is the environmental issue of our day. And while action to reduce climate pollution is needed at all levels, we have the most control over what happens at the state and local level. In 2019, our elected officials have some important opportunities to take meaningful steps forward to reduce Bend and Oregon’s climate pollution. I hope you’ll take time to remind them that you support bold action.

In Salem, the Oregon Legislature is poised to pass the Clean Energy Jobs bill. The bill would set a cap on climate pollution, require permits to emit such pollution, sell the permits through an auction, and reinvest the proceeds in activities that move Oregon to a low-carbon, clean energy future. These activities could include energy efficiency improvements and solar power for low-income families, electric vehicle infrastructure, soil and water conservation, and more.

Here in Bend, our City Council will be adopting a new transportation plan later this year that will guide walking, driving, biking and transit investments for the next 20 years. Our City Councilors will have the opportunity to invest not only in roads, but also in building a low-stress bike network across the whole community; completing our sidewalk systems in existing and new neighborhoods; and improving transit service. They’ll have the opportunity to invest in making our streets safer for all users: drivers, bikers, walkers and people with disabilities.

But none of this will happen unless our elected leaders hear from you. They need to know that you value state and local action that will lead to a cool, clean atmosphere and safe streets that get people out of their cars. Why? Because it’s good for people, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for the environment. It will ensure a better future for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

So as we enter the new year, think global and act local by making your voice heard. Communicate with our elected leaders. Tell them what you care about, and encourage them to take bold action.

Contact information for all Oregon State Senators by District.

Contact information for all Oregon State Representatives by District.

Not sure who represents you? Find out here.

Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory Completed

Results to be presented on August 2nd

On September 7, 2016, the Bend City Council adopted a Climate Action Resolution that laid out a clear pathway for Bend to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Now, almost two years later, Bend’s greenhouse gas emissions inventory is complete and action planning is about to get started. Next week is a great opportunity to catch up on how far we’ve come, learn what’s next in the process, and continue to demonstrate our support for local climate action.

A brief refresher…

After the Resolution was adopted, the City of Bend needed help to fund implementation of the Resolution. Working together, the City, The Environmental Center, Oregon League of Conversation Voters, and other local activists set out to raise $175,000.

First, The City of Bend committed $50,000. Next, we called on Bend citizens and businesses to show their support – and you answered, helping us raise $25,000! With those funds in hand, we were then able to secure $100,000 in grants from Partners for Places and donor-advised funds of the Oregon Community Foundation.

Our successful fundraising effort set the stage for what’s happened this year. The City hired a Sustainability Coordinator in March and appointed a citizen-led Climate Action Steering Committee in April, to oversee the climate action planning effort and identify priority action strategies. Lindsey Hardy, Energy Challenge program director at The Environmental Center and Mike O’Neil of Solaire Homebuilders are co-chairs of the committee.

And that gets us to August 2018. Next week, the steering committee will formally receive and discuss the recently completed community greenhouse gas emissions inventory. The inventory identifies the primary sources of Bend’s emissions and forms the foundation for the action planning that will begin this fall.

The inventory will be presented to the Climate Action Steering Committee at its public meeting on Thursday, August 2nd, from 3:00-6:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers at City Hall. From 3:00 to 4:30, the consultants that prepared the inventory will present, and then the committee will discuss and ask questions. If time allows, community members may also be able to engage directly with the consultants; otherwise, community members can ask questions during the public input section of the meeting at approximately 5:30. Go here to see the full agenda for the committee’s meeting.

In the coming months, subcommittees will be formed to explore greenhouse gas reduction strategies. Stay tuned for details on subcommittee recruitment, how you can get involved, and meeting schedules. All subcommittee meetings will also be open to the public.

Working together, we’ve catalyzed adoption and implementation of Bend’s Climate Action Resolution.

Thank you for helping us get this far. Now, let’s keep the momentum rolling. Please continue to show up in support of local action to reduce climate pollution! We hope to see you at City Hall on August 2nd.

Bend’s Transportation Plan: Moving People, Not Cars

The City of Bend recently launched a new planning effort, this time focused on transportation. Its purpose is to develop a plan to meet Bend’s transportation needs through 2040, when Bend’s population will reach 153,000. Yikes—that’s a lot of people trying to get around town.

The City also established the Citywide Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC), to guide the planning effort. Our job is to provide regular public input that reflects diverse perspectives from all corners of the community. I say our job because I serve as one of the committee’s four co-chairs.

Transportation is the last big planning and infrastructure nut Bend needs to crack. We have a plan for where and how we want to grow, and we have a plan for providing sewer service. But it’s not clear how we’re going to move Bend’s residents and goods and services—oh, and those tourists—around every day. Nor is it clear how we’re going to pay for the new roads, bike lanes, sidewalks and transit stops we need to get that job done.

What’s this new plan going to cost and how are we going to pay for it? Bend’s need for new transportation infrastructure, not to mention repairing and maintaining what we have today, exceeds the available resources. And while state funding will grow some, federal government funds are projected to remain flat or decline. So we’ll have to rely on ourselves.

My work on CTAC has just started. I will advocate for investments not only in roads but also in alternatives, like bike lanes, sidewalks, trails and transit. I want to see investments that protect the safety of all users, so people feel comfortable getting out of their cars. I want a funding plan where all users pay their fair share—including visitors. And I want a plan that is guided by measurable progress on indicators like safety, congestion and reliable travel times for commuters and commerce.

Key to achieving that plan will be for CTAC to hear from people like you who support my priorities. Our first public meeting is coming up on June 11th. I hope to see you there.

*Photo Credit (above): City of Bend

2018 Legislative Session: The Good & The Bad

The 2018 legislative session is over and, as always, there’s some good news and some bad news from Salem.

The bad news is that neither the Clean Energy Jobs or the Home WRAP bills passed. Despite all the support the bills received from Oregonians across the state, the dynamics of a short session and a tight budget killed both bills.

The good news is that legislative leaders and the governor agreed to work together to pass the Clean Energy Jobs bill in the 2019 legislature. Thanks to support from thousands of citizens and businesses, legislators heard loud and clear that Oregonians want to take action to reduce our contribution to climate pollution. Speaker of the House Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney will co-chair a new, bipartisan Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction, and Governor Kate Brown will create a new Carbon Policy Office, both of which will help prepare the legislature for passing the bill next year.

<Read more about what happened on Clean Energy Jobs this session from our partners at Renew Oregon, who are leading the campaign to pass the bill.>

The future of the Home WRAP bill is not so clear. Its innovative approach to incentivizing investments in energy efficiency and solar for Oregonians of all income levels received a lot of positive feedback from legislators. But the program required new funds and the legislature’s budget writers were firmly opposed to any new spending this year. The bill’s sponsors are still assessing its prospects for 2019.

Your voice made a difference this year and will be essential to getting Clean Energy Jobs (and perhaps Home WRAP, too) across the finish line in 2019. We’re committed to keeping you informed and engaged when things heat up again in Salem next January.

So stay tuned for 2019!

Deschutes Water: The Next 50 Years

Learn about a new study that will shape water management for years to come.

Water is a precious resource in our high desert region. And while we are blessed with a lot of it, we also have a lot of needs to meet. With agriculture, fish and wildlife, recreation, and rapidly growing cities, there are large and growing demands on our water.

The truth is water in our Deschutes River basin is over allocated — it’s estimated that we currently have a shortfall of 230,000 acre-feet of water compared to the total need.  As is often the case when it comes to water in the West, disruption of fish and wildlife habitat on the Deschutes is real and growing and has not been adequately addressed. Over allocation means that water quality and quantity suffer during summer months, especially during dry years, and flow patterns do not reflect the natural pattern. Add climate change into the mix, which could radically disrupt historic water flow volumes and patters, and the future of our regional water supply is at risk. This situation is also ripe for continued conflict between competing needs.

Now, after three years of hard work, a new report on water in the Upper Deschutes River basin is nearly complete. The report could shape water management in the basin for the next fifty years.

The Upper Deschutes Basin Study was designed to develop a plan to meet the needs of all the basin’s water users over the medium and long-term. It analyzed different water management strategies as well as the effects of three different climate change scenarios. The study was guided by a working group of 38 conservation groups, irrigation districts, state and local government and others.

Before they finalize the report, its authors want to share their work with Central Oregonians. They’re hosting a series of public workshops next week throughout the region where they’ll explain their draft findings and recommendations, answer questions, and get feedback.

A healthy Deschutes River is essential to our region, its beauty, history and future. It deserves to be restored. And restoration is possible if we make the right choices today – choices that should be informed by the results of the basin study.

If you care about water in our region, we urge you to attend one of the open house events. Click the location links below to learn more.

March 5th, 1:00-3:00 PM in Sunriver
March 5th, 5:30-7:30 PM in Bend
March 6th, 5:30-7:30 PM in Madras

City of Bend Needs Volunteers to Help Develop its Climate Action Plan

Do you want to see the Bend community become a leader in reducing climate pollution? Now is your chance, by serving on the City of Bend’s Climate Action Steering Committee.

Last week, the Bend City Council established the Climate Action Steering Committee to work with City staff to develop a climate action plan for the Council consideration by September 2019. The Committee will include 11 volunteer members that reflect the community, including citizens, businesses, academics, local government and youth.

Online applications are open now and are due Friday, March 2 by 5 pm.

Learn more here.

Support Bills to Reduce Climate Pollution

Updated on 2/28/18:

With only 11 days left in this year’s legislative session, it’s time for a final grassroots push to pass the Clean Energy Jobs and the Home WRAP bills.

Both bills advanced earlier this month by moving out of their respective originating committees. But legislators are once again culling from all the bills that were introduced at the start of session. So we can’t let up on letting our elected leaders know we want these bills passed this year.

Please email or call your legislators today! Tell them you value a healthy climate and an efficient, clean energy economy, and that these bills will help Oregon achieve both!

Below are more details about each bill as well as contact info for our Central Oregon legislators.

Make Your Voice Heard in the Legislature

The Environmental Center is supporting two important bills this legislative session: Clean Energy Jobs and HOME WRAP. Both bills will help Oregon reduce its contribution to climate change and provide funds and incentives for energy efficiency, energy conservation and solar and other renewable energy projects.

But legislators won’t act unless they hear from citizens across our great state. And since this is a 35 day short session, they need to hear from you now. Hearings on these bills have already begun.

Here are some highlights about the bills, links to learn more, and directions for contacting your legislator today.

Clean Energy Jobs Bill 

The Oregon Legislature is poised to take a huge step forward on reducing our state’s contribution to global warming.

As you may have heard, the legislature is considering The Clean Energy Jobs bill, a “cap-and-invest” bill designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon. The bill will:

  • Cap: set a cap on the amount of climate pollution from the largest emitters that decreases over time.
  • Price: The largest emitters will pay for every ton of climate pollution, giving them an incentive to invest in pollution reduction.
  • Invest: The funds raised will be invested in transportation options, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects across our state.

Learn more about the Clean Energy Jobs bill here, from our friends at Renew Oregon who are leading the campaign to pass the bill.

Email or call your legislators today! Time is of the essence in this short session.

Renew Oregon has a link here you can use to email your legislators about the Clean Energy Jobs bill.


Incentives for energy efficiency, energy conservation and solar should be a policy priority in Oregon. This is especially true for low-income families where every dollar counts, and in a time when housing affordability is an issue in many communities.

The HOME WRAP (Weatherization, Retrofit and Affordability Program) bill would create new incentives for Oregon homeowners. Up to $4,500 would be available to help reduce the costs of weatherization projects like insulation and new windows, high efficiency heating and cooling systems, and rooftop solar.  Incentives would be available to families with total annual income of less than $200,000 and to nonprofit landlords of affordable housing units on behalf of their renters. And since HOME WRAP creates an incentive rather than a tax credit, it will benefit families who may not have a tax liability.

This bill will also support thousands of good paying jobs across our state in the home energy and solar business, jobs we have worked hard to create and that we will need to sustain if we hope to reduce climate pollution in the medium- and long-term.

Learn more about the HOME WRAP bill here.

Let’s get the HOME WRAP bill (HB 4121) passed.  Email or call your legislators today! Tell them why you support HOME WRAP, HB 4121.

Here is contact information for local Central Oregon legislators:

Representative Knute Buehler
House District 54

Representative Gene Whisnant
House District 53

Representative Mike McLane
House District 55

Representative Daniel Bonham
House District 59

Senator Tim Knopp
Senate District 27

Senator Dennis Linthicum
Senate District 28

Not sure who represents you in the state legislature? Go here. Not finding your legislator here?  Here is a full list:

Grant Funds Secured for Climate Action Plan

Yesterday we got some great news about climate action in Bend. After a year of hard work, we secured the final funds we need to begin implementation of the Climate Action Resolution adopted by the Bend City Council in September 2016.

The immediate news is that donor families at the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) have committed $50,000 to support creation of a climate action plan for Bend.  Their generous support means our community also gets $50,000 in matching funds from Partners for Places, a group of national foundations that support local sustainability and climate action projects.  Together with $50,000 from the City of Bend and $25,000 from local individuals and businesses, we now have the full $175,000 we need to launch the climate action planning effort for Bend.

I say “we” because this was a collaborative effort.  The Environmental Center worked closely with City of Bend staff, OCF staff, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the volunteer activists of our Bend Climate Resolution Working Group to raise these funds.  When the resolution passed, we made a commitment to support the City in securing the funds to implement the resolution.  We followed through on that commitment.

I also say “we” because it reminds me that meaningful climate action is not something any one person, organization or government can achieve alone.  Only collective, collaborative effort will make a meaningful difference. And while our current national leaders have lost sight of this truth, we haven’t here in Bend, Oregon.

I must admit it’s surprised and frustrated me that it’s taken this long to get started.  But that also illustrates another truth about meaningful climate action: perseverance will pay off.  This is not a short game. We’ll continue to experience resistance.  We will have a long journey ahead of us to reverse the build-up of climate pollution that is driving rapid global warming, to achieve the goal that Paul Hawken calls “drawdown”.

I am proud of the hard work The Environmental Center and our local partners have done to persuade our City Council to adopt a Climate Action Resolution and to secure the funds our City needs to implement the resolution. And I am excited to jump in, sleeves still rolled up, and begin the hard work of creating Bend’s climate action plan.

There is so much we can and should do to start changing the trajectory of climate pollution and global warming – actions that will be good for our climate, for people and for our economy.

The truth is, our work’s not over.  It’s just getting started.

-Mike Riley, Executive Director