Emission-free electricity due by 2040
By Lorrie Kaplan
With this year’s Oregon’s legislative “short session” wrapping up just last week, I was eager to chat with Rep. Pam Marsh, Southern Oregon’s representative to the Oregon House, to get a fresh round-up on state climate action news.
As Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Environment, Marsh sits in a key position to drive climate legislation. Under her leadership, the Oregon legislature notched several landmark climate victories last year. The biggest was the “100% Clean” bill which will effectively require emission-free electricity in the state by 2040.
The rapid-fire, five-week legislative session took place in the context of a state budget with revenue already coming in $2.7 billion over projections.
“We were actually able to fund much more than we would usually be able to in a short session and still keep a healthy reserve,” says Marsh. “We focused on making smart, one-time investments.”
Adapting to rapid change
Marsh started building out a climate agenda for 2022 almost immediately after closing the books on the 2021 long session.
“We finished the session, and the next day it was 116 degrees in Portland, leading to the death of 100 people and, realistically, many more,” Marsh recalls. “So we started working on legislation within weeks to respond to the changing conditions on the ground.” People living in multifamily homes and manufactured homes were among those hardest hit by the extreme heat.
Companion House and Senate bills were developed which were later amalgamated into SB1536, the “Emergency Heat Relief Act,” which supports emergency cooling and clean air efforts during hot or smoky days. The bill ended up passing with healthy bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
“We had to take action,” Marsh asserts. “We’ve realized we need warming shelters when it’s really cold outside. We’ve learned we need clean air shelters when we have smoke. Now we understand we need cooling shelters as well.”
SB1536 takes a multipronged approach to rising temperatures by clarifying tenants’ rights and protections to install air conditioners; authorizing the Oregon Health Authority to deploy emergency AC units; providing funding for community cooling shelters; and providing landlord subsidies for creating cooling shelters in common spaces in multifamily dwellings that lack AC.
A little less fuel on the fire
SB1536 also focuses on reducing emissions from Oregon homes, by making it easier for renters and low-income homeowners to install efficient electric heat pumps — the most energy efficient devices available for providing both cooling and heating. The bill authorizes new subsidies to landlords as well as rebates to homeowners for installing electric heat pumps.
The Oregon Department of Energy will work with community-based organizations for the bulk purchase and mass installation of electric heat pumps in homes. “We need to build community capacity to help vulnerable and low-income Oregonians move to electric appliances,” says Marsh. “We had no idea if there would be money available for heat pump deployment, but we also knew it was also the right thing to do.”
Creating a plan for building decarbonization
Climate policy and green building advocates have been pushing for provisions that would allow Oregon cities to create “reach” building codes requiring energy efficiency that exceeds state codes.
In California, “reach codes” have enabled more than 50 California counties and cities to enact local moratoria on new natural gas infrastructure. A rapid reduction in natural gas usage is widely viewed as essential to putting the brakes on climate change.
In Oregon, the reach code effort failed in 2021, and again in 2022. But sometimes in failure there is a sweeter success. “We agreed to form a Resilient, Efficient Buildings Taskforce to look at building decarbonization strategies,” Marsh explains. She will co-chair the taskforce along with Sen. Kate Lieber of Beaverton, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.
“The reach code effort would have allowed motivated cities to opt in for more energy efficiency, but only on new buildings, and only up to 10%,” according to Marsh. “We need way more than that, and we hope the REBuilding Taskforce can get to way more than that.” The taskforce has funds to engage outside experts as needed.
The group plans to get to work quickly so that recommendations can be developed in time for consideration for the 2023 legislative session.
And a few more things
Lastly, the legislature also approved funding for the following additional climate initiatives:
• Studying the impact of drought on streams and habitat.
• The Oregon Health Authority’s Healthy Homes program, which funds critical repairs and energy efficiency upgrades for low-income and vulnerable residents.
• Solar and storage rebates.
• Charging networks for medium and heavy-duty trucks.
• Continuing the current rebate program for electric vehicles.
• Seismic planning for oil and fuel storage terminals in the Portland area.
As a close observer of municipal, state, and federal level climate policy, I sleep a little better at night knowing that Ashland’s representatives in Salem — Rep. Marsh and Sen. Jeff Golden — understand the climate crisis. Both are working expeditiously and strategically to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions and provide vital assistance to our most vulnerable neighbors and habitat most directly affected by climate change.
Lorrie Kaplan is chair of the Ashland Climate Action Project of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now and President of the Ashland Climate Collaborative. She is also an unpaid board member of Ashland.news. Do you have an idea for Climate Spotlight? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.