U.S. House climate panel makes swing through Oregon
As members of a House committee visit Portland and Oregon, they hope to take back some ideas for Congress to advance the growing political momentum for national action on climate change.
The three members, including Oregon's Suzanne Bonamici, got a look at battery-powered heavy trucks and buses. They also saw the supercharging station known as Electric Island, set up last year by Portland General Electric near the Daimler Trucks North America plant in North Portland.
They also stopped at Marine Terminal 2 at the Port of Portland, which with the Oregon Mass Timber Coalition hopes to convert to a modular production facility for mass timber for use in multifamily housing and commercial buildings.
Their visit was on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis scheduled a hearing Aug. 3 in Astoria, part of the 1st District Bonamici, a Democrat from Beaverton, represents in northwest Oregon.
Chairwoman Kathy Castor said it was only coincidental that the visit took place just days after record-high heat affected much of Oregon, 13 months after a similar four-day siege resulted in around 100 deaths.
"This is a place we've been wanting to come for well over a year," said Castor, an eight-term Democrat from Florida who represents Tampa.
"We have seen the innovative future. It is right here in Portland. It is a model for what is going to happen across America in these partnerships between electric utilities, automobile and truck manufacturers, school districts and local communities to help electrify everything we do in transportation, clean the air and tackle the climate crisis."
Transportation is the largest sector that generates the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. In addition to an electric tractor and tractor-trailer from Daimler Trucks, on display were electric buses to be used by TriMet and the Beaverton School District.
"We have got to lower our greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere," Castor said. "We think about the cars we drive, but we need to focus especially on fleet vehicles and heavy trucks."
Bonamici also sits on the Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Education and Labor Committee, where she has advocated for more education and job training to go hand in hand with climate change.
"There are a lot of good jobs involved in this work," she said. "I want to make those jobs available to people who historically have been left behind."
Castor, Bonamici and Republican Rep. Buddy Carter of Georgia heard from several people:
• Maria Pope, chief executive of PGE, which helped set up Oregon's first supercharging station that allows quicker recharging of batteries used in buses and heavy trucks. Though it's across from Daimler Trucks headquarters, it's also used by others. "You can have many people from across the communities we serve charging here regularly."
Andy Macklin, who is in charge of PGE's Smart Cities initiative, said it offers lessons for how other such supercharging stations should be built and operated — and how they will fit into demands from regional power grids that connect much of the West.
• Rakesh Aneja, vice president and chief of eMobility for Daimler Trucks, who said, "Portland has become a hub for our electrification activities" with headquarters, engineering, manufacturing and Electric Island all on Swan Island.
He said his company has projected how much power a vastly expanded fleet of battery-powered trucks will need — and where charging stations should be built without overloading the local power grids. "This is too big of a challenge for anyone to do by themselves," he said. "It takes a global village to raise this decarbonization child."
• Sam Desue Jr., general manager of TriMet, whose board in April ordered 24 electric buses from a California manufacturer after having tested five buses, purchased in 2019 with the help of a federal grant and PGE, on Route 62 on Beaverton's Murray Boulevard. Desue said the buses can be recharged overnight, when demand for power is relatively low. "It's critical that we continue that" momentum.
• Craig Beaver, transportation administrator for the Beaverton School District, first in Oregon to use electric buses. Two are in service now, PGE has kicked in money for a third, and six are on order. Beaver said he hopes that 30 will be in service in three years.
"They go out in the morning, come back for a few hours, and then go in the afternoon. Then with an overnight charge, the rates are a lot lower and we are perfectly suited for it," he said. Daily bus routes average about 75 miles; current capacity is about 100 to 150 miles. "We are looking forward to technology getting to the point where we can get 250 to 300 miles out of a (single charge) battery."
• Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, who said the Oregon Transportation Commission has boosted spending on electric-vehicle infrastructure by $100 million. Oregon has designated 11 corridors for charging stations by passenger cars and trucks.
What members said
Buddy Carter is one of the seven GOP members of the select committee, which was re-established in 2019 after Democrats reclaimed a majority in the House. (Republicans did away with an earlier committee in 2011). The panel cannot initiate legislation on its own, but in mid-2020, it issued a long list of recommendations for action by Congress.
Carter, a four-term member whose district includes the Georgia coast where he grew up, said he is not among those who deny climate change. He said he associates with the Theodore Roosevelt Caucus, named after the Republican president and conservation champion of the early 20th century.
"I've always said that first of all, climate change is real and we have to address it" through adaptation, mitigation and innovation, Carter said after a tour of Electric Island. "The part I am looking forward to seeing is the innovation that is going on right here. This is a testament to what we can do when we all work together and face an issue."
Most recent public attention has focused on the off-again, on-again talks in the evenly divided Senate over what a pending budget reconciliation measure should include in grants and tax incentives for carbon-free energy and climate change. It's likely to be less than what the Democratic majority in the House passed last year.
"It is an important bill and we are looking forward to watching it progress in the Senate and get to the House in the near future," Bonamici said.
But Bonamici, who has been in the House for more than 10 years, managed to get some of her climate priorities into a larger semiconductor-support measure (HR 4346, known as the CHIPS and Science Act) awaiting the signature of President Joe Biden. Among them: Ocean acidification, regional energy innovation, and enhanced education for science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM).
Castor said Bonamici has been instrumental in helping secure some of the 750 recommendations that the panel made in 2020. About 400 have been included in bills passed by the House, she said, and 200 passed by both chambers.
Money for climate-change projects was tucked away in a 2020 omnibus measure that Donald Trump signed weeks before he left the presidency, and also in the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act and $1 trillion Infrastructure and Jobs Act that Biden signed last year, plus military budgets in the past two years.
"Now we are poised to take another historic step in the most historic investment ever in climate change and energy innovation, if we can get that through the Senate and back through the House," Castor said.
The trio stopped later at the Port of Portland's Marine Terminal 2, where raw logs used to be shipped for manufacturing outside the United States. Now the port and the Oregon Mass Timber Coalition hope to parlay $5 million from the Oregon Legislature, and $500,000 in planning from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, into a federal grant of $100 million to equip a modular manufacturing plant in the terminal. It is among 20 to 30 finalists seeking money under the American Rescue Plan Act.
The new roof for the main terminal at Portland International Airport, which is run by the port, will use 3.3 million board feet of mass timber. That is wood glued together and put under pressure to make a strong building material, similar to (but larger than) cross-laminated timber.
Among the speakers were Curtis Robinhold, the port's executive director; William Silva, operations manager for mass timber at Swinerton, a construction company that used mass timber in building the First Tech Federal Credit Union in Hillsboro in 2018; and Ernesto Fonseca, chief executive of Hacienda Community Development Corp., which has developed housing in North and Northeast Portland and Molalla; plus experts from the Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.
Advocates hope that the use of mass timber will put people back to work in struggling timber-dependent communities, thin Oregon forests in danger of devastating wildfires linked to climate change, and provide a way via modular design to reduce building costs for housing and other projects.
NOTE: Adds Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, who spoke to the touring members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
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