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Commissioner Rubio introduces $750 million 'Climate Investment Plan' for Portland's vulnerable communities

The plan includes significant grants for home upgrades, transportation and improvements to Portland's tree canopy.

PORTLAND, Oregon —

Applause echoed through the North Atrium at Portland City Hall on Thursday as a cadre of politicians, environmental justice advocates and organizers celebrated the unveiling of a massive “Climate Investment Plan.” 

The $750 million plan, announced by Commissioner Carmen Rubio, comes out of the Portland Clean Energy and Community Benefit Fund, passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2018. 

“It's the first environmental initiative led by communities of color in Oregon, and the first program of its kind in the United States,” said Rubio, who noted that the city has seen choking wildfire smoke and deadly heatwaves just over the last few years. “The need to address the climate crisis cannot be any clearer.” 

The estimated $750 million, which would mostly be distributed through grants, would be separated out into several categories. 

Roughly $474 million would be put toward improving energy efficiency in residential and commercial buildings, with a special focus on installing upgrades in low-income homes. 

Another $128 million would go to “transportation decarbonization,” with programs aimed at increasing access to e-bikes for disadvantaged communities.  

Around $70 million will go to funding green infrastructure, with special attention paid toward improving the city’s tree canopy, the lack of which can lead to the urban heat island effect. 

Roughly $41 million would be invested in green jobs and workforce development and another $20 million toward regenerative agriculture. 

The clean energy fund, which is funded by a 1% tax on large retailers in the city, has run into some problems in the past, though. In early 2022, a $12 million grant was awarded to an organization whose leader had previously been jailed for defrauding energy companies, according to The Oregonian. That grant was quickly rescinded.

The new investment plan includes several key components to what it calls "transparency, measurement, reporting and evaluation."

"Each program contains key metrics with which to evaluate progress and success," the plan says, and there will be publicly accessible dashboards that will allow residents to track where the cash is going and metrics for success.

Rubio said the investment plan will set the city up to adapt as climate change continues to alter the way people live. 

“In the face of unprecedented climate disasters, we must make impactful investments to build a sustainable, climate-resilient city for future generations — especially communities that experience climate change first and disproportionately,” she said. 

The idea for the clean energy fund came out of a 2016 meeting in a church basement, said Alan Hipólito with the environmental justice organization SUMA. Representatives from his and several other Portland nonprofits were frustrated with marginalized communities consistently being treated as afterthoughts when it came to climate change. 

“We saw a way to flip the script to resource our community’s largely untapped climate creativity, and to build new climate solutions,” Hipólito said, noting that the energy fund, also known as PCEF, has already granted more than $145 million since it was passed. “When you look at the frontline grantees so far, I want to make sure that you recognize that there was almost no climate money for these groups before PCEF. None.” 

The investment plan is expected to come before the full city council on Sept. 20 with a final vote expected before the end of the month. 


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