Oregon lawmakers make a play for more federal climate money

By Adam Aton | 06/28/2023 06:29 AM EDT

Oregon passed more than $90 million in new climate spending, legislative leaders said, which could position the state to grab as much as $1 billion from Inflation Reduction Act programs.

President Joe Biden speaks while standing next to Tina Kotek.

President Joe Biden speaks alongside Tina Kotek at an Oct. 14, 2022, campaign event in Portland, Ore. Kotek would go on to win the Oregon governor's race. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The Oregon Legislature ended its session late last week by passing a suite of policies aimed at leveraging new federal climate funding — in large part by beefing up the state’s own agencies.

Aiming to unlock as much money as possible from the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, Oregon lawmakers have passed a package of bills to align state climate incentives with federal ones. Heat pumps, building weatherization, zero-emission vehicles, solar energy and working lands would all get more state funding under legislation awaiting action from Gov. Tina Kotek (D).

All told, Oregon passed more than $90 million in new climate spending, legislative leaders said, which could position the state to access as much as $1 billion from Inflation Reduction Act programs.


But because President Joe Biden’s signature climate law aims many of its subsidies at consumers and businesses, the amount of money that ultimately flows to Oregon — or any other state — will depend on how well the public understands federal programs of varying complexity.

To that end, Oregon lawmakers gave state agencies more resources to help residents and businesses access federal climate subsidies.

Millions of dollars would go toward staffing up and managing programs. The Oregon Department of Energy alone is set to receive more than $3 million infusion for administrative costs, about one-quarter of its funding boost under the sprawling climate bill. And technical assistance is listed as a top priority across the climate legislation, with another bill outlining the state’s obligations to help tribes and environmental justice communities navigate government bureaucracy.

“We recognize that we have an incredible opportunity with these (federal) funds,” said Nora Apter, climate program director at the Oregon Environmental Council, an advocacy group.

But, she added, marginalized communities, local governments and community organizations need help with the complications of federal grant writing.

“We see a really huge need for states to step up,” Apter said. “We’re really trying to ensure that consumers and businesses understand how to leverage these incentives, and also how they fit in with other state rebates.”

In some cases, state money could help the public secure federal matching funds.

For instance, Oregon set aside $10 million for a natural and working land fund with the intention that some of it go toward federal programs for landowners. So if a federal subsidy has a cost-sharing requirement, a farmer potentially could use that state fund to help pay for her portion — lowering or even eliminating her out-of-pocket costs.

Buildings, resilience

Buildings were a key focus of Oregon lawmakers, who framed their new energy standards as a way both to cut climate pollution and to harden communities against heat waves, wildfires and other climate impacts.

The main climate bill, HB 3409, directs state agencies to create an energy performance standard for new, large commercial buildings. Subsidies will become available for building owners before the standard takes effect, and afterward, the state plans to impose civil penalties for commercial properties that fall below the standard.

“We have to update our buildings to keep Oregonians safe,” Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber (D) said. “More efficient, resilient buildings will not only keep Oregonians and their families safer and healthier in their homes, but reduce utility bills and the pollution that is causing the climate crisis.”

Lawmakers directed over $10 million to grants for “resiliency hubs.” The state is looking to expand its capacity to adapt to climate hazards — such as deadly heat waves — through local networks of support. Local governments, tribes and community organizations can apply for grants to plan, develop and operate facilities that shelter people from climate impacts.

“Climate resilience hubs will also ensure our communities have the infrastructure and support they need for the often years-long, costly process of disaster recovery,” state Rep. Khanh Pham (D) said.

Renewables also got an important boost during this year’s session. Lawmakers extended the lifetime of the state’s residential solar rebate program, added $10 million to the program and directed state agencies to find suitable sites for solar projects that could be developed quickly. Here, too, the state hopes to tap money from the Inflation Reduction Act’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

The other climate legislation Oregon lawmakers passed includes:

  • State subsidies for medium- and heavy-duty zero-emissions vehicles, with $3 million appropriated over two years.
  • A $2 million training program to boost the number of workers qualified to install heat pumps and other energy-efficient systems in buildings.
  • A grant system to help landowners protect their property from wildfires.
  • A goal for Oregon to install 500,000 heat pumps by 2030.