Air Quality: While Eugene does not have severe levels of ozone pollution (the main pollutant ranked by the EPA for “non attainment” areas for metropolitan areas), it does have other kinds of severe air pollution problems ignored by this questionnaire that nevertheless are harmful to health. Eugene has extremely high levels of formaldehyde (for plywood production), is a non-attainment area for dust, and is number one in the country for grass pollen due to the massive amounts of ryegrass fields occupying nearly all of the farmland upwind of town.
Electricity Use and Production: Most of Eugene’s electricity comes from the Bonneville Power Administration, which is mostly hydroelectric (damning of the Columbia River) but also includes some nuclear power from their reactor at the Hanford Reservation. Nearly half of the northwest power grid is run on coal combustion, and several new natural gas (fossil methane) power generators have been built in Oregon and Washington in the past few years (EWEB, the City of Eugene’s utility, was an investor in one of them). Several ports along the Oregon coast are targeted for ultra-hazardous Liquid Natural Gas terminals and will be difficult to stop due to the 2005 national energy bill’s pre-emption of local authority over energy facilities (the State of Oregon is disinclined to oppose them, anyway). While the local utility professes an interest in conservation, it recently shut down its energy conservation office that did public education and is planning to spend about $90 million to relocate operations from downtown to wetlands near the edge of town, next to the Beltline bypass of the metro region.
There are several small businesses that install solar panels (hot water and electricity), but no City building has installed them on their roofs. The City is planning to include these kinds of features as a marketing component of a planned, unpopular, expensive new City Hall, but with costs of about $1,000 per citizen a ballot measure approving the funds is unlikely. A recently opened biofuels station near the City also gets lots of kudos, but it is a private enterprise, not a government operation (the case with nearly all environmental initiatives). The University of Oregon, a public institution, added solar panels to its new business complex, but about one third of the cells were installed in the shade – the largest collection of solar panels installed in the shade of any known installation anywhere.
Environmental Perspective: The City of Eugene government has long suffered from a split personality on environmental issues. In many cases, the rhetoric is excellent. However, the implementation is often retrograde. In recent years, the City has approved numerous big box megastores, subdivisions and factories in wetlands, more roads and highways. Part of town is relatively green and pedestrian friendly. The parts of town built in the past few decades is as much of a suburban wasteland as anywhere in the country, albeit with some bike lanes and some bus lines.
Environmental Policy: Eugene has some excellent environmental policies. Unfortunately, they do not have any legal weight, and are routinely ignored by many City staff when planning further metastatization of sprawl.
Green Design: The City has said nice things about private and university efforts for greener construction. However, Eugene’s economy is very dependent on clearcuts and plywood, which is not offset by a couple of buildings built to moderately green standards. Eugene has declined to require Green Building as a condition of permits, and still allows subdivisions to be built without any effort to orient buildings for passive solar design.
Green Space: Eugene does have a lot of green space. Most of this area fits into three categories. The largest green space inside the Urban Growth Boundary is owned by the United States Bureau of Land Management (the West Eugene Wetlands) and was targetted for freeway construction between 1951 and 2006 (when the Federal Highway Administration finally gave up, understanding federal transportation laws would not permit the project). Some of the green space is along the Willamette River or Amazon Creek, perhaps half of that is too close to the flood plain to be suitable for urbanization (a lot of urban parks are merely the areas that developers cannot directly use). The most significant parkland in the City is the ridgeline in the South Hills, although the City is considering allowing much of the remaining Amazon Headwaters to be smothered with more subdivisions.
Public Health: The City of Eugene is considering approval of a new hospital in the most inaccessible location of the city, behind the most congested interchange in the region.
Recycling: The Lane County transfer station has a very good recycling program, although the City of Eugene does not directly run a recycling program. Trash and recycling is all collected by private companies – one of the largest is partially controlled by the brother of an outgoing City Councilor.
Socioeconomic Factors: Eugene is recognized as having high housing costs relative to the incomes that the average person can earn.
Transportation: Eugene has bike paths, buses, sidewalks, trails — and a relatively low level of transit usage compared to many other cities.
Water Quality: The main waterway entirely in the City, Amazon Creek, is contaminated with hazardous waste and lawn chemicals. Much of its route through the middle of the city is encapsulated in a concrete channel. Some of the cleanest water on Earth is found in high Cascade lakes — but wading in Amazon Creek is hazardous to your health.