Climate hawks and social justice champions are joining forces to bring about a more prosperous and just future in Oregon.

Climate hawks and social justice champions are joining forces to bring about a more prosperous and just future in Oregon. One way they could accomplish their goals is by making polluters pay for their pollution and investing the resulting revenue in creating more power, more economic opportunities, safer transportation options, and better health for historically marginalized groups of Oregonians.

Sightline’s new report, What Is the Best Way to Ensure Climate Justice in Oregon?, describes how a census tract-based approach to climate justice, like the one California uses, faces difficulties in Oregon due to quirks of Oregon’s constitution and demographics. The report then points the way towards a homegrown Oregon approach to climate justice that electeds and advocates could pursue as part of either a statewide bill limiting climate pollution or a statewide transportation package.

This report shows that sending polluters-pay revenue to the top 25 percent of census tracts with the most people of color, the most poverty, and the most PM 2.5 pollution would send money to neighborhoods where 37 percent of residents are people of color (compared to the state average of 22 percent) and 63 percent are white. A similar approach in California sends money to neighborhoods where 84 percent of residents are people of color (compared to the state average of 62 percent). Due to demographic differences, the same tool that primarily benefits people of color in California would not do the same in Oregon.

The top 25 percent of census tracts with the most people of color, the most poverty, and the most PM 2.5 pollution in Oregon are mostly urban areas along major highway corridors, whereas the top census tracts in California include urban areas in Los Angeles, but also suburban areas in the Inland Empire and rural areas in the Central Valley. Oregon might need to modify its approach to ensure disadvantaged people across the state benefit from polluters-pay revenue.

  • Perhaps the biggest challenge for climate justice in Oregon is the state constitution, which restricts transportation sector polluters-pay revenue from being spent on priorities important to people of color and low-income communities, like affordable housing, energy efficiency, transit, and electric vehicles. California dedicates its transportation sector revenue to such projects, but in Oregon, all transportation sector revenue would go to the Highway Fund to be spent on highways and roads.

    In Oregon, all transportation sector revenue would go to the Highway Fund to be spent on highways and roads.
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    However, Oregon could obey the constitution while helping disadvantaged populations by sending the transportation sector polluters-pay money to cities and counties, to be overseen by local boards representing local marginalized groups. These boards would then choose how to direct the funds to constitutionally allowable but socially just projects such as improving street, sidewalk, and intersection safety in the most underserved neighborhoods.

    Oregon has an important opportunity in crafting a climate or transportation policy. A homegrown approach, informed by the state’s unique demographic and legal context, could advance its social justice and climate goals and empower historically marginalized residents with the resources to improve their communities.

    Read more in the full report.