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Oregon lawmakers tout package of environmental bills aimed at building efficiency

The proposed bills would cost roughly $20 million, which would come from the general fund. Lawmakers are optimistic the bills will pass.


Oregon lawmakers and advocates called for passage of a package of bills, that would increase building efficiency and resilience on Friday in Gresham at one of the region's newest, and most environmentally friendly, affordable housing developments. 

Wynn Watts Commons, on Northeast 162nd Avenue, was completed last summer and is home to 150 units, nearly 1,500 solar panels and heat pump-powered water heating systems. Over the course of a year, the building is so efficient that the solar panels not only create enough power for all the residents, but they are often able to sell some of that power back to the local utility. 

That was the backdrop for Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber and Rep. Pam Marsh to tout the package of four bills aiming to increase efficiency in all buildings across the state. 

One of their top priorities will be to promote the adoption of heat pumps. Heat pumps are electric systems that can replace older furnaces that run on natural gas. Unlike gas furnaces, heat pumps can provide both heating and cooling. 

Senate Bill 868 would help Oregonians maximize the incentives and rebates available to offset the price of heat pump systems, with a specific focus on low-income residents and those most vulnerable to climate extremes. 

Joel Iboa, with the Oregon Just Transition Alliance, an environmental justice organization supporting the bills, stressed just how important heat pumps will be as heat waves become more common. 

“Heat pumps are the fastest and increasingly becoming the cheapest to get both heating and cooling fast," he said. “We talk about this crisis, it's not something we can address 10 years from now. These are things we have to start doing today.” 

Another part of the package, Senate Bill 869, would take aim at the construction of new buildings, making sure they are not only built to maximize efficiency, but also to ensure they are built with climate-friendly materials. 

The third piece of legislation, Senate Bill 870, seeks to lower emissions from large commercial buildings with what lawmakers call “flexible requirements” and incentives. 

Lastly, Senate Bill 871, aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions from state-owned buildings. 

The bills were sponsored by Lieber and Marsh, who said that bringing down building-related emissions, the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, is important but only half of why they are pushing these bills. 

They point to recent climate-fueled extremes — like the 2021 heat dome and the 2020 Labor Day fires — and say these bills would not only lower the emissions that make these types of events more likely, but also protect residents from extreme heat and wildfire smoke when they do occur. 

The price tag for all that? Lieber and Marsh have estimated the bills would cost roughly $20 million, which would come from the general fund, but they point out that many of the provisions are aimed at qualifying for matching funds from the federal government, provided by the Inflation Reduction Act. 

The bills stem from the work of the Resilient Efficient Buildings Task Force, which Marsh and Lieber co-chaired. The 27-member, bipartisan group met throughout 2022 and included lawmakers, industry representatives, environmental advocates and citizens. It was the recommendations that came from the task force that provided the genesis for the bills. 

And the lawmakers said that work, done ahead of introducing the bills, has them optimistic that the bills will pass. 

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