Rep. Pam Marsh

Marsh Helps Deliver Major Climate Wins for Oregon

As Chair of the House Committee on Energy and the Environment, District 5 Representative Pam Marsh was well-positioned this year to help ensure passage of legislation ranging from fire recovery and economic stimulus to “distinctly Oregonian” climate solutions. 

“There were five key priorities that we needed to come out with,” Rep. Marsh explains. “And we were able to deliver on all of them.”  Marsh represents Ashland and other neighboring communities in the Oregon House of Representatives.

On the top of the pile of 2021 climate wins was the 100% clean energy bill. HB2021  requires the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities (Pacific Power and Portland General Electric) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80% of 2010-2012 levels, 90% by 2035, and 100% by 2040.  With the passage of HB2021 Oregon is the eighth state in the nation to commit to 100% clean or renewable electricity, joining California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington.

“We focused on the crisis issues that are in front of us in Southern Oregon. The climate is changing. We suffered massive losses in 2020. We took that experience into the 2021 session, and we responded.” 

HB2021 Will Reduce the Use of Fossil Fuels for Power Generation

HB2021 is a huge victory since The Big Two account for an estimated 75-80% of the emissions spewed by electricity generation in Oregon. “Getting to 100% by 2040 will be a very significant contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon,” she predicts.  The win is especially sweet after the dramatic failure of sweeping climate legislation two years ago.  The so-called “cap and invest” bill was headed for passage until Republican legislators staged a walkout, bringing the 2019 legislative session to an abrupt and rancorous ending. 

“Cap and invest was much more ambitious,” Marsh explains. “It would have addressed all fossil fuels in Oregon, directly affecting many of our businesses and industries. And of course we heard about that.”  

HB2021 is more narrow, focusing only on fossil fuels used for power generation. The Big Two will be required to provide clean power plans to the Public Utility Commission laying out how they’ll hit the new emission targets. “It’s pretty straightforward,” says Marsh. “They’ll have to produce plans to get us to affordable, good-for-communities kind of power. It’s technology-neutral. It’s not picking winners or losers. It just sets targets to reduce emissions.”

Local participation and flexibility are also prioritized under the legislation. The Big Two are now required to set up community advisory panels and encouraged to partner with communities to set up custom programs.  “It’s important that ratepayers have a voice in the transition to clean energy,” she asserts. 

“Some communities want to work on their climate goals more quickly than others,” Marsh explains. “Others want to support localized power, energy resilience, or other objectives.” The bill also includes $50 million in community investment grants to help local governments, utilities, and tribes develop renewable projects. Ashland and neighboring communities are eligible to apply for these funds. 

In this way, Marsh sees the bill as creating pathways for local, renewable economic development and energy resiliency without mandating specific approaches. “We need to understand how to make these local projects viable,” she explains. “We can’t just expect them to be there without knowing the burden we’re putting on ratepayers.” 

Rep. Marsh also touts the bill’s labor standards, including wage and benefit standards, apprenticeships, and labor agreements for renewable projects. “What we want in the renewable world is really good jobs.” 

She sees southern, eastern, and coastal Oregon as prime regions for renewable development. “There’s tremendous potential to create projects here with very good jobs. There’s a lot to gain.”

At the same time, “there’s the overriding climate issue, and how we change in a way that is very Oregonian,” Marsh explains. “We know more disasters are around the corner. We’re trying to mitigate the climate changes that are driving conditions on the ground.”

Other Major Wins for the Climate

While 100% Clean Energy is epic. But Rep. Marsh is just as excited about a handful of other 2021 legislative victories aimed at reducing Oregon’s climate and environmental impacts–while also addressing energy affordability for low-income residents.

  • Wildfire Risk Reduction and Preparedness. SB762, spearheaded by Senator Jeff Golden, which takes a multifaceted approach to wildfire risk reduction and preparedness. Golden, who represents Ashland and other southern Oregon communities in the state Senate, chairs the Natural Resources and Wildfire Recovery Committee. 
  • The Healthy Homes Bill (HB2842) establishes a Healthy Homes Program at the Oregon Health Authority to address housing issues that lead to poor health outcomes for low-income residents. Funding could be used to address lead or radon issues, improve indoor air quality, fix leaky roofs or poor sewer systems, or for energy efficiency upgrades, according to Marsh. Accommodations for seniors and disabled residents are also included.  Marsh cites Habitat for Humanity as a prime candidate to apply for the program, as well as coordinated care organizations and other organizations serving seniors and disabled individuals.  The city of Ashland also could seek state funding for air purifiers for low-income households, as it has secured in the past. “We clearly need to do more of that work,” Marsh asserts. “With 110 degree weather, having a house where you can be cool and breathe is essential.”
  • Energy Affordability. HB2475 –a rare example of bipartisanship — encourages utilities to provide rate discounts, weatherization, and other programs for low-income and other underserved customers. The bill also provides funds to help people burdened by energy costs to participate in regulatory processes.
  • Electric Vehicles. HB2290 “allows utilities to develop EV infrastructure and expands the subsidies available to low-income folks to buy EVs,” Marsh explains.  
  • Continuation of Energy Trust of Oregon. HB3141 reauthorized the public purpose charge paid by customers of the investor-owned utilites to fund the Energy Trust of Oregon. ETO–a nonprofit organization — uses the funds to provide energy efficiency incentives and other energy conservation programs and investments.  The bill renewed the surcharge until 2036 but reduced it from 3% to 1.5%, since energy efficiency programs are also provided directly by the utilities and included in base rates.  “The continuation of Energy Trust is huge,” says Marsh. “Energy efficiency is our cheapest way out of this mess, and they are positioned to do innovative work.” She cites Energy Trust’s manufactured home replacement program as a great example.  “It makes more sense to help people buy new ones than to continually upgrade these older homes that are leaking energy.” Energy Trust provides money to upgrade to a newer home. The program has special relevance here in Southern Oregon, where many residents lost their manufactured homes to the Almeda fire. “If they live in the Pacific Power territory, they should be eligible for these incentives,” says Marsh.  
  • Modernized Recycling! SB582 sets a common baseline for recycling services statewide while also borrowing pages from the playbook of Oregon’s groundbreaking 1971 “bottle bill.” Under that program–the first bottle bill in the U.S.–producers figured out how to run the recycling system, and then run it.  “We’ll involve producers of items that normally go to the landfill to help us figure out how to recycle them,” Marsh explains. “If you involve the producer and figure out what happens to the packaging, there is a very strong incentive for sleeker and less invasive packaging, and we can reduce the amount of wasteful packaging coming into our homes.” Marsh notes that reducing packaging is also a climate and energy issue. “A lot of fossil fuels are going into the production of a lot of that packaging.”

When it comes to finding climate solutions, Rep. Marsh feels a sense of urgency.  “If we fail, then we’ll just be here year after year after, paying for separate disasters.”