Oregon State House Representative Jules Bailey is quite certain sustainability is not so much a partisan issue as it is a business one. He’s got proof too. The state legislature he serves on—split evenly down the middle between Democratic and Republican representatives—has continually worked together to pass laws that help Oregon businesses and residents tap into incentives and protect the resources our economy relies on. These are seen as pro-business choices in addition to pro-environment choices. In this Green Line Series interview, Rep. Bailey tells us how Oregon is moving sustainability beyond partisan politics and how businesses in the state stand to benefit.
GoGreen Conference: Oregon is a pretty progressive state when it comes to environmental and social considerations. We’d like to know how you think business can best partner with the state legislature and representatives in government to continue the support for sustainability that we enjoy here?
Jules Bailey: One of the real advantages we have here in Oregon is that sustainability, especially as it relates to clean energy, has become a bi-partisan issue in our state. I think that’s evidence of a legacy of interest we’ve had in sustainability over the course of Oregon’s history and the leadership efforts we’ve made that are now nationally and internationally recognized.
In this last session, a bipartisan legislature came together to unanimously pass Governor Kitzhaber’s Cool Schools Initiative. We also came together to pass a reformed Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) and the Residential Energy Tax Credit. We preserved the core of programs and had representatives on both sides of the aisle saying we need to prioritize keeping these programs and making investments in clean energy—even if we’re not able to spend quite as much on them as we have in the past. I believe we have an opportunity to build on that bipartisan support and use the economic development benefits of clean energy as the gateway to a larger conversation of how we build better triple bottom line accountability.
GG: What role do you think government should play in creating this more supportive business environment that upholds not only profitability, but also takes into account people and planet (i.e., Triple Bottom Line focus)?
JB: There is a real opportunity for government in this arena. The private sector can take care of much of this, but the public sector can accelerate adoption. The public sector can help bridge information gaps and financing gaps. We can make sure that projects that could be viable in the long run are viable now. We really can’t wait. We can’t wait for the jobs or for the reduction in carbon. And this is where the public sector’s role as a facilitator and an accelerator can help us achieve goals and set standards.
GG: Oregon is ahead of the curve on sustainability compared to most places, but nobody’s perfect. Are there areas where the state is lacking in terms of supporting sustainability? And if so, how are you working with your fellow elected officials to develop and implement solutions?
JB: I think there is a real need for Oregon to evolve out of this desynchronized, uncoordinated approach of doing innovative one-off programs. The hard conversation that we need to have is around how we coordinate all these efforts into a comprehensive strategy. That’s really what the Governor’s 10-year Energy Plan is about.
We need to plant a flag and make a statement about where we’re going in this state. We need to say what that means for both the private and the public sectors and show how we’re going to get agencies to align to that plan so the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. It’s basic coordination.
We also need to start thinking about our transportation system as part of our energy system and bring all of the pieces together. How do we identify future projects? How do we get transmission capacity to those projects? How do we streamline and eliminate waste? How do we provide the financing structures? All of that depends on us figuring things out and what the mix will look like in the next 10 years. Because if we don’t start doing this now, we’re never going to get there.
The other great opportunity we have is our huge potential in energy efficiency savings. We’ve made some initial efforts on that with the Clean Energy Works Oregon and the Cool Schools efforts, but there is far more opportunity there. And I think we have a chance to do some major economic development at the same time we’re making our economy and buildings more efficient.
GG: You mentioned that Oregon enjoys bipartisan support on sustainability—especially on the Governor’s Cool Schools Initiative. That’s a rare thing on any issue that involves government. How do our legislatures accomplish this while others are in gridlock? What is the Oregon difference?
JB: I think both parties have a bit of a ‘show me attitude’ when it comes to sustainability here, which is a good thing. Both sides want to make sure jobs are part of our goals and both sides want to see job creation benefits. We want to see projects that are actually advancing technology and enhancing quality of life for the next generation. The more we have a shared experience in getting programs off the ground, getting things built and demonstrating higher performance—the more we’re able to find tangible things we can uphold as neither Republican nor Democratic, but rather, that are just good projects for the community that we can all agree on.
GG: Given that the conversation on sustainability is often framed as a partisan or political issue, do you believe our success in Oregon in upholding environmental stewardship in a bi-partisan way is proving that’s not true?
JB: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any reason why this needs to be a partisan issue. Unfortunately, the debate around the science of climate change has become a very partisan issue. I don’t think it’s safe right now for some to even join the dialogue about the carbon and climate issues, because of that. But everyone can talk about jobs. To the extent that we’re talking about jobs, sustainable and successful long-term businesses, renewable sources of energy and the national security aspect of transitioning to a clean energy economy, I don’t think there’s anything partisan in any of that. And it just so happens that Oregon is a state with enormous renewable energy resources in both urban and rural communities.
GG: You’ve already mentioned that sustainability has evolved into this idea of a Triple Bottom Line, which includes people, planet and profit. How do you think government can support equity and diversity without overreaching? Are there any examples of Oregon’s leadership on this topic that businesses in the state should know about, and take advantage of, when working to implement equity and diversity strategies?
JB: Energy efficiency is one area where we have a really good story to tell in that one of the key parts about energy efficiency is that you need to have the job done right the first time—every time—in order to realize the savings that are the basis of the financing. That makes it crucial to ensure you a have highly skilled and qualified workforce doing the job. And that means, essentially, you get what you pay for.
We’ve been able to advance opportunities to do that through Clean Energy Works Oregon Community Workforce Agreement. We have a worker-training pipeline, with labor standards and diversity standards to ensure we’re developing a broad range of the best contractors available. The feedback we’ve received so far from the residential participants—over 500 of them already—is that people have been extremely happy with the contractors and experienced very few issues with quality. So we’re delivering better quality and better energy performance by delivering on equity as well.
GG: What are some incentives Oregon offers businesses that want to become greener? Programs that can help companies take on bigger or faster investments then they would be able to if they were putting up the full investment themselves?
JB: We have a number of things in Oregon—the Residential Energy Tax Credit and Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) are two big ones—both of which provide low cost incentives for adopting energy efficiency and clean energy. The way they’re structured, they push the market towards higher standards, just not a baseline. We also have financing programs like Clean Energy Works Oregon, which grew out of the City of Portland’s model, and the Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Technology Act, which provides very low cost upfront loans to owners to install solar devices on residences and businesses. So we’ve got a whole suite of different programs that provide a lot of tools for residences and small businesses to access energy efficiency and clean energy. The trick now is to take each of those tools, build them to the next level and work to combine their effects.
Jules Bailey is the Representative for Oregon House District 42 (Southeast Portland). Learn more from Rep. Bailey at GoGreen ’11 Portland, where he will moderate the panel on 2011 Energy Innovators: Changing the Business Landscape, October 4th. For more information on GoGreen ’11 Portland or to register, please visit: portland.gogreenconference.net. Get the latest GoGreen ’11 and sustainability news by joining our email list or via our Twitter feed (@GoGreenPDX) and Facebook Page (facebook.com/gogreenconference).