A Local Attempt to Invest in a Green Future

Liz’s Portland

Liz’s Portland

When I was asked to write about an environmental issue I was passionate about, many came to mind; indigenous peoples rights under various new rulers who have come to power in the new year, what animals have silently slipped on the endangered species list and how that will affect the environment around them, how if we as humans had collectively avoided certain industries  from the start we wouldn’t be in the climate epidemic we are in now,  and many more. In the end, I decided to choose a topic that is prevalent in my local community, one which I should know more about. Therefore, I am writing about the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF). The purpose of this article is to summarize the history and objectives of the PCEF and my honest takes of it from my experience analyzing funding mechanisms on an international scale.  In 2020, I hope to write an article updating readers on the status of PCEF and assess whether my predictions were accurate. 

The Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF)

I myself voted yes for the Portland Clean Energy Initiative (also known as measure 26-201 on the ballot) last November, which easily passed with over 60% of the vote. The Initiative was written with the help of organizations focused on environmental justice in the local community. It is said to be driven by community-based solutions and is to give power and leadership positions to stakeholders in the minority community, who have traditionally been marginalized and  left behind in the development of such solutions and processes. 

As a result of the Portland Clean Energy Initiative passing, a financial mechanism (PCEF) will be put into effect. The Initiative enables a 1% supplemental business license surcharge on retailers that generate over $1 billion annually in national revenue and $500,00 in Portland sales, groceries and medicine being exempt.  This money will then be placed into PCEF and is to create a steady flow of funding for renewable energy projects, the focus being to make them more accessible to people of color in Portland. Environmental Justice communities are to be involved in the planning and creation of these projects, incidentally creating more green jobs in the city of Portland.  

When researching the surcharge scheme,  a concern that was raised is that it fails to cover entities with arguably longer supply chains than the retailers that will have to pay the surcharge.  Another concern is that the surcharge’s burden will be shifted onto consumers through higher prices from traditionally affordable retailers. However, these concerns deserve to be analyzed at greater length, perhaps in another post. 

PECF budget spent wisely

The most pressing question I have after further research is how the PCEF will ensure that the money allotted to such projects is spent wisely. From years of being involved in the climate negotiations, one thing I have learned is that the more money there is in a pot, the more chance there is for corruption and misappropriation of such funds. In countries with more human rights abuses and economic wealth disparity, communities most strongly affected by environmental problems are often not adequately represented in the decision-making process. And when they are included, gender is also an issue; normally the amount of men elected as leaders in climate action is much higher than women, even though women are at the frontlines  of climate change and have a great deal of knowledge in how to achieve success in capacity building projects.

Hiking in Portland

Hiking in Portland

PCEF is said to deal with this through a nine-person Commission modeled after the Portland Children’s Levy. Members of the Commission must represent the racial and economic diversity in Portland, as well as hold significant experience in relevant fields to assist in the distribution of the funds. This is a great start to electing members who will be able to take charge of PCEF and decide which projects have the most potential, all while maintaining accountability. However, as learned in the international context, even when the correct stakeholders are elected as leaders, there is no guarantee that they will be able to effectively channel the local community’s interests at heart.  This comes from a lack of communication with those on the ground and those on top. Identifying a community’s needs is only the first step; the knowledge in how to work through the law to provide those needs is equally important. 

My recommendation for the criteria of at least one of the Commission members is the following: They need to be someone who has work extensively on the ground as well helped implement funding mechanisms similar to PCEF on a larger scale. The combination of these two is key to the success of PCEF. If there is trust on both ends of the spectrum (those controlling the fund and the general populace), this will create the connection needed to make the promises of the Initiative more than just aspirations.      

In the upcoming year, I look forward to update you all on the success of the Portland Clean Energy Fund. 

Elizabeth Crespo