The city of Portland is taking public comments on a proposal to charge millions of dollars in fees for greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollution through its Clean Air, Healthy Climate program.
The proposal would raise about $11 million dollars a year to help the city reduce air pollution — including the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
It would charge two different fees, a healthy climate fee and a clean air protection fee, to about 80 of the city’s biggest polluters, including manufacturers, hospitals and universities. The fees range from $15,000 to $2.6 million.
Andrea Durbin, director of the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, said the program creates a new incentive for those entities because the fees would be based on emission levels, and they would be adjusted if pollution levels drop.
“If they want to pay less, or not pay at all the way that they do that is to reduce that pollution,” she said. “We hope that there’s an opportunity to reduce that pollution overall and take steps to cut pollution impacts in our community.”
The city would use the money to encourage energy efficiency, electric vehicles and renewables with the goal of addressing climate change and reducing air pollution — especially for Black and indigenous people and communities of color.
The proposal comes as the city is gearing up to offer the first round of grant funding through the Portland Clean Energy Fund, which has similar climate goals focused on communities of color and those with low income. It follows years of unsuccessful efforts by the Oregon Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown to create a cap and trade system to charge polluters for their greenhouse gas emissions.
Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Portland Business Alliance, said the business community supports the goals of the program but was not included in its development and now has a very short timeline for providing input.
“The idea that we have an extraordinary short timeline is, to put it simply, divisive policy,” he said in a statement. “This proposed city tax was drafted without stakeholder process, and none of the impacted businesses were invited to participate in the development.”
He said adding a new tax on hospitals that are required to have their own power plants in the midst of a pandemic “with little to no input” is “completely unacceptable.”
Durbin confirmed that the city didn’t consult any of the entities that would be charged fees before drafting the proposal, which grew out of the Portland City Council’s emergency declaration on climate change in June.
“This really is a discussion draft,” she said. “The stakeholder process has just started.”
Durbin said as as far as she knows no other city has this kind of program, but following a “polluter pays” formula has been successful in reducing emissions in places like British Columbia.
The Portland City Council has called for faster action to meet its new climate goals, which it recently set at 50% below 1990 levels by 2030. The city’s emissions are currently 19% below 1990 levels.
“We’re off track in meeting our carbon reduction goals, and we need to really to accelerate action,” Durbin said. “We’re paying for this every day in the air that we breathe and the fact that we’re in a rapidly changing climate.”
The program is also aiming to reduce air pollutants and air toxics that come from cars, trucks and industrial operations, including ozone and fine particulate matter, diesel soot, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, and heavy metals.
Research shows nearly 40% of the people of color in Portland live within 1.2 miles of the city’s biggest sources of air pollution, and that increases their vulnerability to chronic conditions that could cause complications if they fall ill with COVID-19.
“You know, Portland has some of the worst air quality nationally and certainly the worst air quality in the state,” Durbin said. “The city of Portland doesn’t really have a program to address air quality.”
Durbin said program funding could go toward existing programs or create new ones, and the city hasn’t ruled out developing performance standards that mandate energy efficiency levels in buildings.
Public comments on the proposal will be accepted through Jan. 4.