Addressing Climate Change with EWEB

Matt McRae of Our Children’s Trust runs for EWEB commissioner

Photo by Todd Cooper

From his position as a former trail leader at Yellowstone National Park to his current job as a policy strategist for Our Children’s Trust, Matt McRae has done his share of environmental work. Now he seeks to apply his experience to the Eugene Water and Electric Board.

McRae is running for EWEB commission in hopes of representing wards 1 and 8. Incumbent board member Steve Mital announced he would not be running again.

Although McRae has never run for office, he has made a career in environmentalism and has ideas about how the city’s main utility could be more prepared for climate change.

The 42-year-old grew up in Salem and moved to Eugene with his wife Holly Bartlett McRae in 2002. The McRaes have a teenage daughter, Avery, who is a plaintiff in the Juliana et al. v. U.S. et al. climate change case. The case was filed by McRae’s own Our Children’s Trust — an organization taking legal action on climate change for future generations.

McRae says his Oregon roots and his family were primary factors in the decision to run for office.

“That’s part of my motivation,” he says. “I’ve grown up in Oregon. I live here, and I care deeply about Eugene’s future. I want to see Eugene thrive over the coming decades.”

In choosing to run for office for the first time, McRae says he has always felt the Eugene City Council and the EWEB board have a lot of influence, and that the city’s use of energy depends almost entirely on EWEB.

“EWEB has a really significant role to play in charting a course for Eugene’s energy future,” McRae says. 

McRae graduated from Utah State University with a degree in environmental science. He spent eight years working for the National Park Service in Yellowstone, and in 2010 he became the project manager of Eugene’s first climate action plan.

After the plan was created, McRae spent several years with the city implementing parts of it. 

While he was program manager, McRae also worked part time for the Emergency Management office, updating the natural hazards mitigation plan, which analyzes the hazards facing Eugene and develops a strategy for addressing the risks. 

“It pretty much had a strong focus on the electric sector and fossil fuel sector, which in my opinion, is all relevant when you think about the EWEB role.”

If elected to the EWEB board, the first thing McRae says he would focus on is ensuring that the utility continues to provide reliable, affordable and renewable power — which he says EWEB is already on the right course for.

Next he wants to address climate change. With changes coming to the utilities market, McRae says he wants to support EWEB in being proactive in addressing climate challenges. 

Where California has struggled to adapt to climate change and the resulting natural hazards, McRae says, Eugene is in a better place. But, he adds, EWEB should learn how to anticipate those issues.

“Given the understanding of challenges and natural hazards, I want to support EWEB in being proactive. How do we respond?” McRae says.

He adds that these changes would be no good if the most vulnerable populations were not supported.

“If we make these changes in our power supply or we anticipate climate change and make changes, and it falls on the backs of the vulnerable populations, then we are doing it all wrong,” he says.

One tangible way to start working towards better energy use, McRae says, is to work on reducing the amount of natural gas used in Eugene or electrify buildings now using natural gas, although, he says, there are a few barriers.

Some of these obstacles would include the designs of buildings and the fact that redesigning may cost business owners significant money up front. He suggests that the city could offer a five-year loan to building owners.

McRae says EWEB is doing a good job, but he wants to work even harder and more aggressively.

“EWEB has a really significant role to play in charting a course for Eugene’s energy future,” McRae says.