Oregon DEQ selects nonprofit to distribute millions from climate investment program

By Monica Samayoa (OPB)
PORTLAND, Ore. Aug. 31, 2023 5:17 p.m.

Seeding Justice estimates a state program for offsetting carbon could generate $150 million each year for climate action across Oregon.

FILE - Solar panels and wind turbines work to create clean electric power at the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility near Lexington, Ore., May 24, 2022.

FILE - Solar panels and wind turbines work to create clean electric power at the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility near Lexington, Ore., May 24, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced Thursday it has partnered with a local nonprofit to run the agency’s climate action program aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions overall for the benefit of disadvantaged communities.


Seeding Justice, a Portland-based nonprofit that deals in social, racial and environmental justice, was selected by DEQ to lead the agency’s Community Climate Investment program. The program stems from DEQ’s Climate Protection Program, which sets a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas companies.

Every year, the program lowers those limits with a goal of reducing statewide fossil fuel emissions 50% by 2035 and 90% by 2050. One of the ways fossil fuel companies can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is through the Community Climate Investment program.

If fossil fuel companies choose to buy carbon credits rather than reduce actual emissions, the money goes toward Community Climate Investment projects, which could include creating more renewable energy, retrofitting and weatherizing buildings, and decarbonizing the transportation sector.

The intention for the investment program is to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions in underserved communities, which research has shown carry more burden from climate change, but it also aims to reduce air pollution, improve public health and help communities transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy.

According to Seeding Justice executive director Se-ah-dom Edmo, the organization estimates the fund would generate $150 million each year for climate action across the state.

“I’m fairly confident that $150 million per year is an accurate estimate and I do believe that it’s conservative,” she said.

Edmo said the organization wants to ensure that every community and family can have a safe place to call home in Oregon as global temperatures and natural disasters rise as a result of climate change.


“We’re facing monumental challenges when it comes to climate change and to match that challenge with persistence and determination and the work that it’s going to take to help protect our families is what we’re coming with,” she said.

The Department of Environmental Quality’s Climate Investment Program could be the first state agency program that focuses on preparing communities most impacted by the effects of climate change. The program is currently being challenged in court by fossil fuel companies.

DEQ’s Whitney Dorer said Seeding Justice’s experience, especially with engaging meaningfully with different communities, was a key part in why the agency chose them as the fund administrator. The organization also proposed other organizations it might partner with, while creating a proposal for how the agency would distribute the funds.

“Looking at all of those various pieces together, we were really impressed with their application, especially in regards to their community based approach to developing the application itself,” she said.

Nora Apter, a senior program director for climate at the Oregon Environmental Council and member of the Oregon Global Warming Commission, said the Climate Protection Program has gone through an 18-month rule-making process to maximize and deliver community benefits like public health, the creation of jobs and boosting the economy.

“It’s exciting that Seeding Justice has the incredible community-led experience, in terms of informing projects and helping to make sure that these investments are both achieving their emissions reduction goals,” she said.

For Ira Cuello-Martinez, who works on policy with the farmworkers union Pineros Y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, funds from the program would have a significant impact for farmworkers.

Cuello-Martinez said farmworkers are hit first and worst from the byproducts of climate change, like extreme heat and wildfire smoke. These families are also impacted by the exposure to pesticides that can harm their health, as growers try to protect crop yields.

“Farm workers are always facing those challenges since they’re working outside directly with the land,” he said. “I think it’s not only when they’re working, but when they go home. They also have to shelter from these extreme weather conditions.”

Cuello-Martinez said farmworkers often cannot find relief at home because their homes are not energy efficient or they do not have the money to cover the energy costs for cooling and heating. He said it makes it a challenge to find relief, but funds from the climate investment program could help them have safer homes.

“The wildfires are only going to get more intense, the heat waves are only going to last longer and become more frequent,” he said.

DEQ and Seeding Justice will negotiate a final contract, after which the organization will have 60 days to submit a work plan to the agency on how it proposes to invest the millions of dollars. Implementation of the program, pending details of the work plan, could take a year.