HIA Stories from the Field
Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Portland, Oregon Area
The HIA found that proposed greenhouse gas reduction scenarios could help
- increase physical activity
- reduce road traffic crashes
- lower exposure to particulate air pollution
Goal: Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2035
The state of Oregon has one of the most ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction timelines in the nation. In 2007, as part of a state law, the Oregon Legislature set targets for reducing Oregon's greenhouse gas emissions statewide. In Portland, the goal is to cut GHG emissions from cars and light trucks 20% by 2035. To reach that goal, the Portland metropolitan regional government (Metro) created the Climate Smart Communities Scenarios (CSCS) planning project.
The CSCS project has looked at different public transportation and land-use approaches - or scenarios - that could help Metro reach its goal. These scenarios include improving public transit, designing walkable neighborhoods, and discouraging car use through pricing policies such as a carbon tax or road use fee.
Oregon Health Authority Conducts Health Impact Assessment
Metro selected the top three scenarios and asked the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to conduct a health impact assessment (HIA) to determine how each one could affect public health and health equity in the Portland region. Andrea Hamberg, the HIA Program Coordinator at OHA, noticed that during the HIA process, the conversation shifted “from almost exclusively talking about the economic impacts of these actions to considering quality of life impacts, including health.”
OHA conducted the HIA with funds from its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant: “Health Impact Assessment to Foster Healthy Community Design.” The HIA focused on:
- Physical activity
- Active transportation
- Air pollution exposure
- Traffic safety
- Health equity
- Urban design
- Health care cost savings
The HIA found that all three scenarios have potential positive impacts on human health. The majority of the health benefits would result from increased physical activity, followed by reductions in road traffic crashes, and lower exposure to particulate air pollution.
“The HIA got more people thinking about health in decision-making and that’s a benefit that is hard to quantify.” – Andrea Hamberg
HIA: A Perfect Fit
The HIA process helped decision-makers draw connections between the scenarios under consideration and health issues such as asthma and physical inactivity.
Hamberg adds, “HIA was a perfect fit for the CSCS project. The planning strategy that Metro used asks questions like, ‘What do we want the future to look like? What steps should we take now in order to get there?’ And HIA is a way to find some answers—it looks at how decisions made today can change public health in the future.”
The GHG-reduction scenario adopted by Metro was selected using the health criteria recommended in the HIA. The state approved Metro’s adopted scenario in May 2015.
The GHG-reduction scenario approved by the state includes a key recommendation from the HIA: To promote changes in land use, design, and infrastructure that may help to increase active transportation like walking and cycling.
The approved GHG-reduction scenario could lead to long-term improvements in health and well-being through
- increased physical activity
- reduced road traffic crashes
- lower exposure to particulate air pollution
As a result of the collaborative HIA process, the OHA HIA Program strengthened its internal partnerships with OHA’s Climate and Health Program and Environmental Public Health Tracking Program. OHA’s external partnerships with Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Toxics Group also benefited from the HIA process.
In addition, OHA’s HIA Program staff gained experience using quantitative modeling tools, like the Integrated Transport and Health Impact Model, and working with large advisory groups to guide their HIA work.
OHA hopes that the results of this HIA will lead to regular consideration of health and health equity in future land use and transportation planning decisions in the region and statewide. In fact, another Oregon metropolitan planning body, the Lane (County) Council of Governments, is using the CSCS project HIA as a model for creating its own list of criteria to use in developing a GHG reduction plan for the Eugene/Springfield region.
To learn more, please access the following resource links:
Oregon Health Authority
Healthy Community Design Initiative, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Page last reviewed: April 6, 2016
- Page last updated: April 6, 2016
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