An out of service bus at the Downtown Transit Center on Monday, April 6. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem would need to have a renewable energy-only electricity grid, capture all its wastewater emissions and reduce all of its trash through composting and recycling to achieve city goals to cut carbon emissions.

That’s according to a presentation delivered to the Salem City Council Monday night, detailing the Salem Climate Action Task Force’s efforts over the past year to identify ways the city can pollute less.

The task force was made up of 33 people from a range of fields, including the school district, businesses, social services and three city councilors.

Last year, the council adopted goals to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035 and become carbon neutral by 2050. That would mean removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to balance out remaining human-caused emissions.

Councilors were presented with two scenarios Monday. One would meet the city’s goals but be difficult to attain without new technology and more stringent regulation. The other would cut Salem’s emissions by about 60% by 2050 through actions that are more attainable, like increasing bus ridership, electric vehicle usage and transitioning to a zero-emissions bus fleet.

Councilor Trevor Phillips said the time is now to implement climate action strategies. He referenced the June heat wave in which many people died as temperatures reached a scorching 117 degrees, a phenomenon that’s expected to become more common as the planet warms.

“Scenario one does not look like it’s sufficient, but it looks like it’s hard to do. It’ll not be easy to get there. And trying to get closer to scenario two is going to take some tough actions politically,” he said, referring to the more stringent plan. “I think many of us are willing to really seriously move towards getting past scenario one and closer to scenario two.”

The task force is holding its final meeting on Oct. 27 and a final draft will be presented to council on Dec. 6.

Kim Morrow, a consultant with Verdis Group which helped guide the plan, said the final meeting will be focused on implementation.

Implementing the plan includes hiring a full-time coordinator, establishing a working group, tracking and reporting emissions, and updating the Climate Action Plan every five years.

The plan is also focused on equity, noting that people of color, seniors, children, residents living in poverty and people who live or work outdoors are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather.

More than half of Salem’s emissions come from transportation.

To address transportation emissions, the plan calls for increasing public transit and housing density along the core bus routes and charging for parking in the central business district.

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke said increasing the ability to work from home is a low-cost way of reducing the number of people commuting.

The presentation didn’t include purchasing carbon offsets, when a business, government or individual pays someone else to remove greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It would cost the city between $3.9 million to $9.7 million each year to offset its greenhouse gas emissions, the presentation said.

Mayor Chuck Bennett said there’s “often a feeling that anything we do will be a drop in the bucket and make no difference.”

Morrow said there isn’t much hope that the world will be able to limit the increase in global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Warming beyond that temperature increases the likelihood of impacts like widespread crop failures and other natural disasters.

But she said local action is still needed.

“All hands on deck. We need international action, we need national action, we need state level action, we need local action, and we need individual action,” Morrow said.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, saphara@salemreporter.com.

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