OPINION: Portland needs more climate action funding, not less
Climate change is hitting Oregon hard: Almost 100 people died in last summer's record-breaking heat wave. Thousands of people are still houseless from the 2020 wildfires in Oregon. Perpetual drought means many communities are facing a water crisis. And the most recent IPC report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the bleakest yet — shouting from the rooftops that governments at all levels must take rapid, far-reaching action if we want to preserve a habitable planet for organized human society.
Climate action at the scale we need is stalled in Washington, D.C., so thank goodness Portland voters overwhelmingly approved the Portland Clean Energy Fund in 2018. Voters in my Southeast Portland district then sent me to Salem and our statewide movement for environmental justice succeeded in putting Oregon on track to 100% clean electricity by 2040. In just two legislative sessions, we have secured tens of millions of dollars in funding to build a new renewable energy economy, create jobs, and reduce energy bills.
All of this is still not enough to meet the immense scale of the climate crisis. To put things in perspective, the price tag of bringing all single-family homes in Portland up to par on energy efficiency is over $3 billion. It will take over a decade for the Portland Clean Energy Fund, which generates roughly $60 million to $100 million a year, to raise enough money to build the solar farms and building upgrades needed for us to withstand extreme heat waves and oil and gas price surges.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine underlines the urgency with which our cities need to rapidly scale up local renewable energy independence. Rising gas prices are hurting low-income and Black, Indigenous, and people of color the most. Climate action is clearly a racial and economic justice issue.
But even as the problem worsens, billion-dollar corporations are trying to destroy the progress we have made in order to maximize their bottom line. The Portland Clean Energy Fund is fueled by just 1% of gross receipts from billion-dollar companies who make over half a million annually in Portland sales. In the midst of the pandemic, large corporations have seen record high profits, meaning Portland Clean Energy Fund revenue has soared past everyone's estimates. That is good news: more money for climate justice is exactly what we need.
Let's look at what the Portland Clean Energy Fund has already accomplished: projects funded in 2021 include home energy upgrades and solar panels for low-income Black Portlanders, clean energy job training and apprenticeships for communities of color, and replacing underused pavement with shade trees, gardens and native plants. This first round of $8.6 million in funding is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 11,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) and 85% of funds went to the underserved communities that the measure was intended to prioritize. This does not even begin to quantify the incredible social benefits of reduced energy costs, more living-wage jobs, and reducing heat islands and food insecurity with green infrastructure.
Imagine what we will be able to accomplish with $60 million to $100 million each year in more projects like these.
The Portland Clean Energy Fund's well-rounded grant committee and staff are hard at work getting these funds out the door with help from a recent city audit that provides good guidance for accountability and evaluation. Our trailblazing climate justice fund is already yielding amazing results and community benefits. Its success will be a cornerstone of the widespread climate action that we all must work together to achieve.
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