After more than a year of community conversations and public hearings, the Oregon Legislature passed in its last days of session House Bill 2021, the country's most ambitious, community-led transition to 100% clean energy standards in the nation. If Oregon is to do its part in combating the harmful effects of our changing climate, we will remember this bill as a seminal moment in the fight for climate justice and equity.
What we will also remember was the environmental backdrop to this bill, as our state experienced sweltering, record-breaking heat, exacerbated by climate change, during that same weekend we cast our last votes. As our Legislature was responding to last year's multiple emergencies of COVID-19, economic recession and wildfires, there was a climate disaster unfolding that would kill more than a hundred people. Like previous environmental emergencies, it did not impact all communities evenly.
Frontline communities have experienced the impact of wildfires, droughts and loss of jobs, but most have never been engaged in helping to shape the policy solutions. The roots of this successful campaign came from the powerful concepts that BIPOC, rural, low-income and other frontline communities' envisioned for Oregon in 2030. I'm proud of HB 2021, and most proud of all the new voices that have engaged in our legislation for the first time in this community engagement process. It's never ever been more urgent to take collective action as we face unprecedented drought and water shortages, extreme heat and a catastrophic wildfire season once again.
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We are already seeing a transition to a clean energy economy underway. The question is not whether we will transition but how we will transition. Will it happen fast enough or equitably enough for all Oregonians to benefit? Can we transition in a way that ensures the communities who have been excluded and impacted most, also benefit from jobs, investments, and disaster resilience?
I believe HB 2021 can show us the future path for Oregon, and this bill will deliver disaster resilience, jobs and community investment across the state.
We have an increasingly pressing need to prevent and prepare for climate disasters. HB 2021 will move us toward that clean energy future and invest $50 million in community-based energy projects in parts of Oregon where there are not many existing funding sources for community-based renewable energy. We heard communities talk about the need for disaster-resilient community energy hubs and microgrids that would generate local renewable energy, and are also safe places people can go to, in the event of a disaster — places where they can charge their phones, keep their medications refrigerated, and power their medical equipment if their power goes out, all powered through renewable energy generated on-site.
Economic opportunity is top of mind as families think about their future, especially in light of the economic pains being experienced as a result of the pandemic.
I found out that Oregon is a net importer of fossil fuel-generated electricity and a net exporter of renewable power. I am proud that HB 2021 incentivizes the development of local renewables to replace fossil fuel power that is largely produced out of the state. That means that we have the opportunity to bring more jobs with excellent labor standards for large renewable projects.
These goals are embedded in HB 2021: creating economic development in the parts of Oregon that need it most, ensuring that Oregon workers are well-supported in entering and participating in the clean energy workforce, and ensuring that at every step of the way, low-income, BIPOC, rural and coastal communities are shaping the transition to 100% clean electricity and are not left out of the benefits this transition will bring.
As I think about our past and current emergencies, as well as those of the future, I return to this quote by activist Grace Lee Boggs: "every crisis, actual or impending, needs to be viewed as an opportunity to bring about profound changes in our society." The opportunity for change is here and now. This legislation is common-sense, achievable and works for Oregonians. I hope it marks the beginning of a decade of bold, equity-centered climate action for our state.
Pamplin Media Group asked several of the rookie lawmakers of the 2021 Oregon Legislature to write guest opinion columns on this theme: "The bill in the 2021 session that I believe had the biggest impact on equity in Oregon."
Rep. Khanh Pham serves House District 46, which includes portions of Northeast and Southeast Portland.
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