PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Portland Clean Energy Benefits Fund is asking the City Council to approve 66 climate justice grants totaling $111 million Wednesday, July 13.

The request from the grant committee comes four months after the Portland Auditor’s Office said the program had not yet finalized methods to track, measure and report its performance, as required by the November 2018 ballot measure that created it.

The March 10, 2022 audit also said the program’s goals are tied to a Climate Action Plan that expired in 2020 and has only been replaced by the declaration of a climate emergency.

In response, Commissioner Carmen Rubio and program officials promised to have metrics in place this month, submit recommendations for a clear climate strategy by the end of the year, and establish performance goals by July 2023.

Rubio oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability that manages the fund and staffs its grant committee. The March 4 letter promising the changes was also signed by BPS Director Andrea Durbin, Program Manager Sam Barasco, and fund grant committee co-chairs Megan Horst and Michael Eden. Durbin has since resigned and been replaced by Donnie Oliveira.

“Portlanders used their voices to demand real change and action. We are committed to honoring the PCEF code directives in a transparent, responsible way. We appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow so we can continue to meet those expectations,” read the March 4 letter.

Measure 26-201 was drafted by a coalition of minority, environmental, social justice and faith-based organizations. It impose a 1 percent surcharge on retailers with annual sales of $1 billion or more in the U.S. and $500,000 or more within Portland. The money raised is intended to fund energy-related projects to benefit lower-income communities, including communities of color.

The council unanimously approved the first group of 45 grants worth $8.6 million recommended by the grant committee in April 2021. Approval of a subsequent $12 million grant was withdrawn and awarded to another organization after The Oregonian raised questions about the qualifications of the original recipient.

Grant requests to be considered by the council on July 13 range from $96,000 for the Friends of Trees tree-planting organization to provide BIPOC individuals with “a pathway to well-paying jobs in the forestry sector” to $10 million for Community Energy Project Inc. to complete 40 to 50 “deep energy retrofits” annually for five years for low-income homeowners, with a minimum of 50% being people of color.

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The program is currently collecting three times more money than estimated when Portland voters approved it at the November 2020 general election — $90 million a year compared to the original $30 million estimate.

That is one reason why, after the audit was released, the Portland Business Alliance called for program spending to be frozen until an emergency, independent 90-day commission could review it in a March 14 letter. Rubio rejected the request but promised to work with the alliance on the issues raised by the audit.

The revenue increase promoted supporters to call for the scope of the program to be expanded.

“This is exciting news for the PCEF Coalition, as we see this as an opportunity to further address climate change impacts on our most vulnerable and impacted communities led by and for those communities. The PCEF Coalition has always recognized the need for comprehensive climate action, and that PCEF was one source of funding among many that are needed. The scale of adaptation needed to mitigate climate change and prepare for its impacts is immense. More resources for climate justice above and beyond the earlier projections of PCEF revenues have always been needed. These additional funds are a boon to Portland,” said a March 7 letter signed by representatives of: Coalition of Communities of Color; Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon; Verde; Native American Youth and Family Center; OPAL Environmental Justice; Sierra Club Oregon; Portland Audubon; Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility; 350PDX; and Columbia Riverkeepers.

Rubio agreed in a letter that was sent on March 9, the day before the audit was released.

“The audit prompted the Portland Business Alliance to call for program spending to be frozen until an emergency, independent 90-day commission could review it,” Rubio’s letter said.

During the ballot measure campaign, both sides said they supported the goals of the measure — to provide energy-efficiency upgrades and job training to communities of color. Beyond that, they disagreed over just about everything, including whether the proposed surcharge on large retailers is the right way to pay for them, how much it will actually raise and whether any of the costs will be passed on to Portland residents and businesses.

The audit can be found here.

The audit response letter signed by Rubio and other program officials can be found here.

The letter from the supporters can be found here.

The Portland Business Alliance letter can be found here.

Rubio’s letter to supporters can be found here.

A previous Portland Tribune story can be found here.