Portland Clean Energy Fund Extends Deadline to Recruit New Committee Members

The position offers a $500 annual stipend to dole out millions in tax money each year.

SLAB TOWN: PCEF looks to bring climate justice to the concrete islands of East Portland. (Blake Benard)

Wanted: Portlander, committed to climate justice, willing to work hard recommending grant recipients who regularly incur the wrath of anti-tax climate skeptics.

Pay: $500 a year.

The Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund is looking for three new members of its advisory committee, the citizen group that helps determine how millions are spent on climate projects aimed at low-income communities of color.

PCEF, as it’s known, published the the notice for new members Jan. 19. This week, PCEF extended the deadline to March 5, suggesting that the fund is having trouble finding the right people for the job.

“Are you looking for an opportunity to be a change agent for Portlanders?” PCEF asks on its website. “Bring your passion, expertise, and unique perspective to our efforts to invest equitably in climate-justice projects by applying to be a PCEF Committee member!”

It’s a hard job. PCEF is charged with vetting nonprofit organizations that apply for grants to undertake climate projects like installing heat pumps in low-income housing, making bikes available in low-income communities, removing pavement, and creating backyard gardens.

In doing that work, PCEF has become a lightning rod for anti-tax groups who say the fund has raised millions for projects that won’t move the needle on climate change.

Last March, the Portland Business Alliance wrote Mayor Ted Wheeler and told him the fund should be frozen until concerns about performance—raised earlier by the city auditor—could be addressed.

Two months before, The Oregonian reported that one of the fund’s biggest grantees had a history of defrauding energy companies and had failed to pay taxes in three states.

Magan Reed, a spokeswoman for PCEF, said lack of interest in the positions isn’t a problem. PCEF has received 20 applications so far.

“We want to make sure we reach as many people as possible,” Reed said. “We’re lengthening the timeline so people have time to ask questions and do research.”

Right now, the nine-member committee has just seven members, according to its website. The site does not reflect the resignation of Shanice Brittany Clarke, who left recently for personal reasons, Reed said. Without her, the committee has six members.

PCEF is funded by a surcharge on retailers with annual sales of $1 billion or more in the U.S. and $500,000 or more within Portland. The fund is administered by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, which provides staff to the grant-making committee.

In September, the Portland City Council changed the rules at PCEF, allowing government entities and for-profit companies to seek loans and contracts from the fund, not just nonprofits.

The city also created a five-year climate investment plan to help target PCEF’s investments. In the first two rounds of grants, community organizations proposed specific projects. The five-year plan includes community grants but outlines strategic areas for the bulk of the fund’s investments. Members of the PCEF committee are helping to develop that five-year plan.

“Committee members must have a demonstrated commitment to addressing climate change and empowering historically disadvantaged groups,” PCEF said on its recruitment page.

For one position, PCEF says it is seeking someone “who has knowledge of Native American history, an understanding of the diversity of the local American Indian/Alaska Native community, and issues surrounding the Urban Indian experience.”

For another, it wants someone with “knowledge of practices for promoting minority-owned and/or women-owned businesses.” Candidates for the third position are not necessarily required to have those attributes, but they must be “committed to advancing PCEF’s goals.”

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