Uncertain Times


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Thanks to our unusually warm winter, May 2015 will certainly rank as one of the loveliest on record. But for many in the clean-energy community, the month of May will likely be remembered for something else: crazy uncertainty.

In March the Oregon legislature passed a controversial bill requiring companies to reduce by 10% the carbon in fuels sold in the state over the next decade. But as we went to press, Gov. Kate Brown announced she was convening a bipartisan committee to look at possibly gutting elements of the new law so Republican opponents of the clean-fuel rules would vote for a much-needed transportation package.

Meanwhile, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, borrowing a page from former archenemy Uber, dropped a bombshell on Pembina’s controversial proposal to build a propane export facility in North Portland. Hales, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, greeted the project with open arms last fall but abruptly withdrew his support in early May. Hales said he changed his mind after receiving a flood of calls and emails from residents opposing Pembina’s $500 million project.

Pembina said it would move forward with the plan anyway. The Port of Portland continues to back the project.

Then there’s SoloPower, a maker of thin-film PV systems, which shut down operations in 2013 after falling behind on loan paybacks to the state of Oregon. As the Portland Business Journal reported, the group, now under new ownership, has resumed making flexible, solar panels that weigh much less than traditional solar panels and is shipping them to Japan, South Korea and South Africa.

These three developments make a statement about how uncertain clean-energy policy — and progress — is in this state. They also underscore some of the contradictions of our time: So many individuals, businesses and policy makers are working toward clean energy while working in an economy dependent on fossil fuels. That “one step forward, two steps back” approach jibes with our cover story, which looks at some of the topsy-turvy issues associated with corporate sustainability rankings; why oil and car companies, for example, routinely show up on lists of most sustainable businesses.

Our own 100 Best Green Workplaces rankings, revealed in this issue, reflect some of those contradictions. The list also showcases companies and nonprofits trying to navigate those contradictions by making their workplaces more environmentally friendly. In uncertain times, the best that employers and employees can do is try to chart an unsteady path toward a greener future.

  • Linda Baker is the editor of Oregon Business