Portland City Council Unanimously Approves $750 Million Climate Action and Environmental Justice Plan

Portland, Oregon - In a unanimous decision, the Portland City Council has greenlit a comprehensive five-year, $750 million plan designed to address climate action and environmental justice. The Portland Clean Energy Fund’s (PCEF) Climate Investment Plan is committed to mitigating carbon emissions and enhancing climate readiness for residents, with a particular emphasis on aiding marginalized communities and low-income individuals. This climate justice initiative will allocate funding to a wide spectrum of projects, encompassing renewable energy adoption, energy efficiency enhancements, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within the transportation sector by incentivizing electric vehicle purchases over the next five years.

During the City Council's deliberations, Commissioner Carmen Rubio expressed her belief that the plan aligns with the desires of the city's residents. She emphasized that it represents an investment strategy that offers solutions to communities that are most vulnerable to and affected by climate change.

Rubio, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability responsible for the fund, stated, "I believe this is a huge step forward for the program and for the city and community."

The Portland Clean Energy Fund has undergone nearly a year of restructuring, with an increased focus on enhancing community resilience against climate change and fostering transparency in fund allocation. This realignment was prompted by a series of setbacks last year, including an unfavorable audit that revealed shortcomings in oversight and accountability within the clean energy fund.

Funded through a tax on large retailers, the Portland Clean Energy Fund has, to date, raised significantly more revenue than originally anticipated when the tax was approved by voters in 2018.

The development of the climate action plan approved on Wednesday involved multiple rounds of input from Portland residents, businesses, subject matter experts, and community organizations to ensure that the funds would address climate, social, and racial justice issues.

Indi Namkoong, the transportation justice coordinator at the environmental nonprofit Verde, participated in this yearlong process. She praised the responsiveness of PCEF staff to feedback and noted the substantial changes made throughout the drafting process. Namkoong expressed optimism about the plan potentially serving as a model for other cities across the nation.

Mayor Ted Wheeler echoed a similar sentiment during the Council's vote, emphasizing the unique nature of PCEF's approach to climate solutions and its potential impact on a national scale.

While the climate investment plan garnered unanimous approval, Commissioner Rene Gonzalez voiced "deep" concerns regarding fund distribution, greenhouse gas emission reduction, and the plan's focus on race. He raised questions about the framing of racial concerns in public policy and expressed worries about insufficient investment in infrastructure and transportation.

Notably, the Portland Bureau of Transportation disclosed significant budget cuts and the potential layoffs of 89 employees if additional funds are not allocated for transportation issues. The agency faces a $32 million budget deficit, which could impact road maintenance, street repairs, and pedestrian safety programs.

Gonzalez suggested using some PCEF funds to support the agency but acknowledged the plan's overall improvements and the need to continue evaluating substantial spending decisions.

The implementation of the Portland Clean Energy Fund's spending is scheduled to commence at the end of the coming month. Two immediate strategic programs will focus on planting 25,000 trees in heat-vulnerable neighborhoods to expand tree canopy coverage and introducing energy-efficient and renewable technologies in newly developed and redeveloped affordable multifamily housing units.