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

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

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

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.

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.