Last November, Portland voters passed a ballot measure to created Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF). On Thursday, the Portland City Council voted the fund into official city code.
The PCEF establishes a one percent business tax on companies that annually make over a billion dollars nationally, and more than $500,000 locally. That money will be used for environmentally-friendly job creation and sustainable building projects that will benefit low-income people and people of color. It passed with 65 percent of the vote in last year’s election.
The measure was supported by a broad coalition of groups, including the Portland chapter of the NAACP, the Sierra Club, Coalition of Communities of Color, and others. As president of the Portland NAACP in the run-up to the 2018 election, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty championed the ballot measure.
“What we did was something that I’ve never seen happen before in Portland, and certainly not in Oregon,” Hardesty said at Thursday’s meeting, noting the diverse base of support the PCEF has. “And quite frankly, I don’t think we’ve seen it anywhere else.”
By passing two PCEF ordinances, the city council set the wheels in motion to hire four Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) staffers to oversee the fund, and to establish and nine-person PCEF grant committee.
According to Damon Motz-Storey, a spokesperson for the coalition behind the PCEF, there aren’t any other programs like it that he knows of in the US—ones that marry sustainability, corporate responsibility and equity like the PCEF does—though it’s similar to a national Green New Deal sponsored by Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“We don’t really have any models to be basing our program off of, and that’s kind of exciting,” he told the Mercury. “This is potentially going to be a blueprint for other cities to adopt similar strategies. … That’s definitely on the forefront of our minds right now.”
The PCEF grant committee will be responsible for allocating the funds, which PCEF backers say will equal at least $30 million a year. It will include nine Portland residents, at least two of whom will need to live east of 82nd Ave to ensure geographic diversity. Applicants’ racial and socio-economic backgrounds will also be considered.
Corporations have a grace period this year while the fund is established, but Motz-Storey said they hope to open grant applications to organizations in early 2020.
This year's plan for the PCEF? "Have conversations in the city with groups that have never engaged in clean energy," says Motz-Storey, "and start having conversations with people asking, 'What are ways that your community could really benefit from this?'"