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Oregon Democrats say landmark bill would help communities adapt to climate change

Top Oregon officials say the proposed federal Inflation Reduction Act would invest billions of dollars to create clean energy and green infrastructure projects that would help low-income residents and communities of color adapt to climate change.

On Wednesday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan along with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, discussed how funding from proposed legislation would significantly address the many inequities Black, Indigenous and communities of color face because of climate change.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan toured Mudbone Grown Farm in Rockwood Wednesday August 10, 2022. He’s joined by Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Ron Wyden. The lawmakers touted the Inflation Reduction Act, which they say would invest billions of dollars to help communities adapt to climate change.

Monica Samayoa / OPB

After more than a year of negotiations on a federal level, Senate Democrats passed a bill Sunday they say would make landmark investments in clean energy and protect communities from the worst effects of climate change. The legislation, which began as President Biden’s Build Back Better initiative, passed on a party-line vote with no Republican support. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the legislation as early as Friday.

The proposed legislation would invest $369 billion in clean energy and climate action reform. Senator Wyden called it “the biggest climate investment in the country’s history.”

Brown said some of the investments and initiatives presented in the bill are already underway in Oregon. She said more funding is needed to create more programs and community initiatives like Mudbone Grown Farm, a Black-owned community-based farm in Gresham the lawmakers toured Wednesday.

“I think we lead for a number of reasons, but excited about the collaborative efforts that community-based organizations are using, along with state and local government and the sense of urgency that we all have to tackle climate justice issues,” she said.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $60 billion for clean and renewable energy infrastructure like solar panels, wind turbines and tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles. The bill pledges $27 billion for a greenhouse gas reduction fund, also known as a ‘green bank,’ to help fund more clean energy and sustainable projects, like Mudbone Grown.

Shantae Johnson, co-owner of Mudbone Grown, said the creation of a green bank would make it easier for farmers like her to apply for public money rather than applying for private funds. She said green banks would also help smaller farmers get started and maintain their business instead of being priced out.

“It takes a lot of money,” she said. “Farming is very expensive, and I think that a lot of people don’t understand what the true cost of farming is … so it’s really important that we invest in our local farmers at farmer’s markets and through local streams.”

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan toured Mudbone Grown Farm in Rockwood Wednesday August 10, 2022. Mudbone Grown Farm's co-founders Shantae Johnson and Arthur Shavers discuss their work and how their projects have benefitted communities of color.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan toured Mudbone Grown Farm in Rockwood Wednesday August 10, 2022. Mudbone Grown Farm’s co-founders Shantae Johnson and Arthur Shavers discuss their work and how their projects have benefitted communities of color.

Monica Samayoa / OPB

EPA’s Regan said the proposed bill would also expand investments in clean energy.

“When you look at new investments in energy generation in this country over the past year, 80% was in clean energy, renewable energy, and battery storage,” Regan said. “We are encouraging the market, we’re embracing the market. At the same time, we are ensuring that we don’t leave any communities behind.”

The group also discussed how heat waves are affecting residents, particularly those living on heat islands. Heat islands are places surrounded by freeways, parking lots, industrial buildings or concrete areas that absorb the heat and radiate it. They are also areas that have little to no tree canopy to provide shade and relief from the heat.

Under the current proposal, the Inflation Reduction Act would invest $1.5 billion for tree planting to cool heat islands. Last year, nearly 100 people died in Oregon after an excessive heatwave, 42 of those deaths happened in heat islands. Many of the people who died were also found alone in their homes with no air conditioning units.

John Wasiutynski, Multnomah County’s director of the Office of Sustainability, said his team worked with Portland State University to survey the temperature difference in downtown Rockwood during last year’s heatwave.

“Downtown Rockwood is extremely hot,” he said. “So people walking to the MAX station, people accessing our cooling center, going for shopping, are going to be experiencing hotter temperatures than the actual reading at Portland International Airport,” he said.

John Wasiutynski, Multnomah County’s director of the Office of Sustainability, is showing EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan the impacts of heat islands. He said his team worked with Portland State University to survey the temperature difference in downtown Rockwood during last year’s heatwave. 

“Downtown Rockwood is extremely hot,” he said. “So people walking to the MAX station, people accessing our cooling center, going for shopping, are going to be experiencing hotter temperatures than the actual reading at Portland International Airport,” he said.

John Wasiutynski, Multnomah County’s director of the Office of Sustainability, is showing EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan the impacts of heat islands. He said his team worked with Portland State University to survey the temperature difference in downtown Rockwood during last year’s heatwave.

“Downtown Rockwood is extremely hot,” he said. “So people walking to the MAX station, people accessing our cooling center, going for shopping, are going to be experiencing hotter temperatures than the actual reading at Portland International Airport.”

Monica Samayoa / OPB

The team also surveyed the landscape architecture in Rockwood and found that there is only 8% of tree canopy cover in the neighborhood. Wasiutynski said his team has planted 400 trees in the area and has applied for funding to plant more.

“We know that the best time to plant the tree was 30 years ago,” he said. “The second best time to plant the tree is today.”

For the past three years, Oregon has seen a significant increase in climate change fueled weather events because of the continued burning of fossil fuels. From devastating wildfires burning more than one million acres to snowstorms cutting off power to hundreds of thousands of residents to extreme heat killing nearly 100 people last year.

The extreme heat conditions have also led to less snowpack in the Cascades, contributing to some parts of the state experiencing extreme drought conditions that have exasperated water resources for farmers and residents. Federal, state and local governments are desperately looking for ways to address climate change and help the region begin to adapt to these changes.

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