August 1, 2018

Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson addresses attendees of the Community Energy Justice Summit on July 13.

How do we transition to renewable energy in a way that is just and equitable to historically oppressed people?

That question was at the heart of the Community Energy Justice Summit, a three-day workshop in July for frontline community organizations and policy makers sponsored by Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.

Last year, Commissioner Vega Pederson and Chair Deborah Kafoury co-sponsored a resolution between Multnomah County and the city of Portland to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The resolution calls for at least 2 percent of the renewable energy used by our community to come from “community-based resources.’’

Earlier this year, Commissioner Vega Pederson committed $15,000 for an environmental justice summit to address questions around community-based resources and how to achieve that goal.

The July 13 event, held at Portland Community College’s Southeast campus, was organized by community-based organizations — including the Coalition of Communities of Color, Verde, OPAL Environmental Justice, APANO, NAYA, and IRCO/Africa House — and the Multnomah County Office of Sustainability and the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon Executive Director Huy Ong signaling during a team-building exercise that he wants to build power by the people.

A reception Friday night brought out a wide swath of partners, including Megan Decker, chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Oregon, representatives from local utilities, including PGE, Pacific Power, and Northwest Natural, and several local community members.

Commissioner Vega Pederson launched the conversation with a history of the industrial revolution and how it not only led to advances in productivity and manufacturing, but also created a system that concentrates wealth and power among those with the most social and economic capital: primarily those who are white and male.

“This system has prevented countless generations of communities of color and other marginalized voices from accessing the benefits of industrialization,’’ Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “These communities have felt the pain of neglect and intentional harm. For years we have been dumping our most polluting and dangerous industries into these exact communities: inflicting exacerbated air and water contamination and countless other medical harms upon them.’’

The industrial revolution also led the planet to a place where the very survival of humankind is threatened by human-influenced climate change.

Thomas Aquinas Debpuur, (center) who works for IRCO’s Africa House, shares a meal with other forum participants.

But Commissioner Vega Pederson said she was encouraged at the summit, because “in this room I see the groundwork of a new revolution” that will:

  • Save the planet from the devastation of climate change

  • Acknowledge the wrongs of the past, and commit to rectifying them in the future

  • Be powered by the people who are on the front lines of this fight day after day.

“It will take all of us — utilities, lawmakers, activists, community members, and everybody else — to achieve this transformation, the likes of which have never been seen before,’’ Commissioner Vega Pederson said.

“That specific commitment is the reason we are here tonight.”

The Multnomah County Office of Sustainability plans on incorporating the findings from the three-day event into a comprehensive strategy that will chart a path for achieving the 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 goal.