Building Back Better: What a Green Stimulus Could Look Like for Oregon

A green COVID-19 recovery will create clean energy jobs and ensure more resilient, vibrant communities across our state

Even as we’ve faced a barrage of news related to the ongoing crises of public health and systemic racism, the parallel crisis of climate change has continued to wreak havoc across Oregon and the United States. Unfortunately, the climate crisis is only worsening the economic recession, compounding the COVID-19 pandemic and furthering racial inequality. While the onslaught of bad news can feel discouraging and downright depressing, there is a light at the end of the tunnel– so long as we choose the right path. 

As the United States looks to support economic recovery coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that our leaders in government do not strive to return simply to “normal.” Normal wasn’t working. An economy that relies on dirty fossil fuels for energy and transportation at the expense of breathable air and a stable climate is unacceptable. An economy that benefits corporations over working families and profits over people is unacceptable. An economy that digs us deeper into irreversible climate change, worsening health outcomes and disproportionately our most vulnerable communities is unacceptable. 

A stimulus package that promotes a business as usual approach to economic recovery will seal our climate fate, locking in more carbon pollution for decades. We must take a lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic and follow the science, which tells us we must take immediate action to flatten the climate curve. We must act now to prevent catastrophic and irreversible harm to our state and planet– and what we do over the next decade matters most

As we look to address the parallel crises of public health, systemic racism and climate change, we simply cannot afford to return to business as usual. Rather, we must seize the opportunity to build back better. We need an economic stimulus that ensures equitable job recovery and health outcomes, lifts up workers and frontline communities, and helps mitigate the impacts of climate change by supporting a transition to a clean energy economy. 

A green stimulus provides a critical opportunity not only to reduce emissions and help avoid climate catastrophe, but also support an equitable and stable economic recovery that benefits families and working people. A recent study by the World Resources Institute found that since 2005, 41 states and Washington, D.C. have increased their GDPs while reducing their carbon emissions– a clear demonstration that it is possible to decarbonize while growing the economy. As for Oregon, from 2005 to 2017, our state’s economy grew by 32%, while emissions dropped 6%. That should come as no surprise, given that clean energy industries were leading Oregon’ energy economy, accounting for nearly six out of every ten energy jobs in 2019. 

A federal stimulus that supports investments in clean energy jobs and climate-friendly infrastructure will have lasting, positive impacts on Oregon’s economy and communities by creating family-sustaining green jobs, improving health outcomes, accelerating a just transition off fossil fuels, and helping to ensure our economy and communities are more resilient.

So what does building back better look like? Here are some examples of programs that federal stimulus funds could support to accelerate the shift to a healthy, just and sustainable economy in Oregon: 

  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants: Supports job-intensive renewable energy projects and energy efficiency programs for K-12 schools and municipal buildings. 
  • Clean Energy Innovation: Programs like the Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program will spur innovation and jump-start transformative clean-energy technologies to support job creation. 
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Helps keep families safe and healthy through initiatives that assist families with energy costs. 
  • Clean Energy Tax Credits: Incentives to help deploy solar, wind, energy storage, offshore wind, energy efficiency and electric vehicle infrastructure projects. 
  • Better Buildings Neighborhood Program: Helps state and local governments develop sustainable programs to upgrade the energy efficiency of homes and buildings, using innovation and investment in energy efficiency to expand the building improvement industry, create jobs, and save consumers money on utilities. 
  • Clean Energy Job Training: Funding for community colleges and other educational institutions to support training programs for displaced workers who are interested in transitioning to clean energy jobs. 

These are just some of the many programs that could help Oregon decarbonize while we rebuild our economy. Unfortunately, whether or not Oregon and other states receive funding to pursue these projects will depend on whether Congress can come to an agreement on the next stimulus package. While we’re not holding our breath that there will be any federal action between now and the election, there are some things that Oregon can be doing now to lay the groundwork for now for stimulus funding down the line. 

For instance, we can work to make green projects “shovel ready,” so that work on projects can begin as soon as stimulus funds become available. The Oregon Climate Action Plan (EO 20-04) provides us with an opportunity to do just that. Given its bold emissions reduction goals and sweeping climate directives, OCAP allows us to position ourselves to build back better and ensure that we have good paying jobs and healthy communities across Oregon. OEC and our partners will work to advocate for action at the federal level to support our ongoing work to secure the most climate-protective and equitable policies in Oregon.

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