Across the US, legislators are grappling with how to build bi-partisan support to pass climate-related legislation. In Oregon, a state that is no stranger to divisive politics, a cross-sector task force played a pivotal role in developing senate and house bills to decarbonize buildings.
The Oregon Climate Action Plan (OCAP), passed in March 2020, highlighted the need to reduce building emissions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To develop policies to achieve this goal, two Democrat and two Republican legislators from the House and Senate convened the Resilient, Efficient Buildings (REBuilding) Task Force. The task force included bipartisan representatives from relevant sectors, including construction, labor, utilities, local government, and public health.
SSG worked with the REBuilding Task Force over the course of two months in 2022, modeling scenarios based on possible policy approaches for reducing building emissions, such as improving building codes and increasing energy efficiency requirements. SSG’s analysis showed that energy-efficient building retrofits could reduce peak electricity demand, which would enable buildings to transition to electric heat pumps, rather than relying on heat from natural gas.
The task force’s diverse expertise was crucial in countering arguments from natural gas providers against building decarbonization. For example, natural gas providers questioned whether certain energy efficiency retrofits were feasible, and whether heat pumps were capable of meeting heating and cooling demands. In response, an architect on the task force defended the feasibility of aggressive building retrofits by pointing to projects that were already underway; a leading engineer provided assurance that heat pumps were indeed up to the task.
Bringing the task force along throughout the process of scenario modeling was also critical for ensuring that the group felt confident in aligning energy efficiency programs for buildings with state climate goals. Task force members selected which policies to model, what parameters to include, and which policies to bundle into scenarios. Having environmental policy experts alongside representatives from the construction industry ensured the modeling assumptions accounted for diverse issues related to building decarbonization.
“How we build is how we live”
As a result of this process, four senate bills and one house bill have now been tabled in Oregon state, all with recommendations to pass. Together, these bills enable greenhouse gas emissions reductions in buildings, currently the second largest source of climate pollution in the state. In an op-ed, Senator Kate Lieber (D), one of the four legislators who chaired the REBuilding Task Force, champions the new bills by saying “how we build is how we live, and it’s clear that Oregon needs a better foundation.”
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