As a record-breaking extreme heatwave broils the southern part of the country this week, Wednesday marks two years since Oregon endured its hottest days ever in a similar deadly heat dome event that claimed dozens of lives.
Now, state lawmakers hope recently passed climate package legislation will fill gaps in climate resilience and adaptation before the next heat dome strikes.
After a six-week Republican standoff held up the legislative session, lawmakers swiftly passed an ambitious climate package — a $90 million investment in climate action that could return up to $1 billion in federal funding over the next few years.
The so-called Climate Resilience Package was a compilation of more than a dozen bills with a focus on community resiliency, adaptation and reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector. The package, passed by lawmakers during the last days of the legislative session, was created as a compromise to quickly make up for lost time during a six-week Republican walkout that nearly derailed the session.
State Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Southern Jackson County, said the package puts policies in place that will build climate resilience and adaptation within communities as extreme weather events continue to impact the state.
“Adaptation isn’t something that I was willing to talk about a few years ago,” Marsh said. “But then we had heat domes and people died. And so now, we really do understand that a lot of our investment needs to be about preparing for these changing conditions that we’re already experiencing.”
The legislation also opened the door to a potential of nearly $1 billion in federal funds for climate action over the next few years, according to supporters. Environmental advocates, who worried the state could miss out on the money, said the Climate Resilience Package’s passage marks a win for climate action. But a handful of groups in the building industry opposed some bills because the package came together too quickly at the end of the session, and they worried it could make building code compliance more difficult.
A broad package
The bills in the package range from installing 500,000 heat pumps across the state by 2030 to rebates for purchasing medium and heavy-duty electric trucks. They also include energy efficiency retrofits for residential and commercial buildings and a bill that creates a one-stop shop within the Department of Energy for clean energy federal rebates. Many of the bills are designed to reduce emissions from residential and commercial buildings, the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Federal funding is now potentially available to Oregon because those bills passed would come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. The Inflation Reduction Act makes $369 billion available for clean energy and green infrastructure projects that help low-income residents and communities of color — communities most impacted by the climate crisis — adapt to climate change. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law supports programs that create clean energy jobs and build resilience in the nation’s transportation system, like adding public electric vehicle chargers on major highways.
Oregon Environmental Council’s Climate Program Director Nora Apter said the climate package performs a double duty by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving community resilience against extreme weather events, something that has not been a focus for lawmakers in the past.
“Nearly all of these policies, while they’re focused on reducing emissions, are also balancing the need to improve near-term resilience for communities or households, for local economies, to the climate impacts that are already threatening our state,” she said.
Apter said the bills will help create a process for how the federal funds can be distributed. That would include hiring more staff within state agencies to apply for grants and funds and providing incentives for individuals and businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Like other bills that became bargaining chips between lawmakers in the hurried final days of the legislative session, not all of the proposed climate legislation received approval.
Senate Bill 522 would have updated Oregon’s greenhouse gas reduction goals to at least 95% below the 1990 baseline by 2050. The current goal, adopted in 2007, only requires the state to achieve at least 75% below the 1990 levels. This specific language from the bill was removed late last week.
Apter said if that section of the bill had passed, it would have aligned the state’s greenhouse gas emission goals with federal targets.
“Our state hasn’t updated our climate goals in 15 years,” she said. “Which is, frankly, absurd.”
Apter said Oregon also could have done more in this package to have “complementary policies” with federal programs that would have made it easier for the state to adapt.
That could have meant boosting manufacturing of clean energy technologies, like heat pumps, as a way to attract and create clean energy jobs in the state, she said.
State Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton and Southwest Portland, said lawmakers could have invested more in retrofitting older buildings.
“That efficiency is one of the biggest goals that we have to concentrate on if we are going to meet our greenhouse goals,” she said. “Because we have such old housing and building stock, we have got to work on getting that building stock more efficient.”
Lieber, who was part of a committee that moved forward recommendations for building efficiency, also said Oregon needs to focus on the full life cycle of building and construction materials as it builds more energy-efficient buildings.
“There are smarter ways to get our building materials and utilize them that will cut down on greenhouse gas emissions,” she said, “and there are ongoing conversations that have to happen with that.”