Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oregon 3rd District, discusses the recent climate change legislation that passed the U.S. House, the new U.S. Partnership for Sustainable Communities, the need for long-term sustainable transportation planning in the U.S., and the cost of making U.S. communities walkable and bikeable.
Congressman Blumenauer argues that the recent climate change legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), needed to focus more on decreasing the amount people drive, which can be done by increasing access to public transport and making communities more walkable and bikeable. To support a more sustainable transportation network, Blumenauer introduced CLEAN TEA legislation. “I introduced CLEAN TEA (H.R. 1329) in the beginning of the year to start the conversation about the link between transportation and climate change. The bill would dedicate 10 percent of any revenue from a climate-change bill towards transportation projects that reduce carbon emissions. The transportation sector is responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in this country, and it’s clear that we won’t meet our emissions reduction targets without addressing those emissions. While most climate change proposals address fuel efficiency and the carbon content of fuel, they often leave out the third leg of the stool: the amount that people drive.”
While ACES now includes elements of CLEAN TEA, the U.S. House may have underfunded the move to a climate-friendly transportation system. Blumenauer adds: “After negotiations with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairmen [Henry] Waxman and [Edward] Markey and Transportation Committee Chairman [James] Oberstar, we were also able to secure a provision in ACES that allows states to use some of the revenue they receive under that legislation for low-carbon transportation projects such as public transit. The percentage is closer to one percent than 10 percent, but it’s something.”
On the new U.S. Partnership on Sustainable Communities, an interagency partnership between HUD, Department of Transportation, and EPA, Blumenauer says “I am very happy that the Obama administration is thinking holistically about livable communities. I have been working on these issues in Congress for the past 13 years and have watched the concept of livable communities go from being considered “interesting” to “desirable” to the recognition that they are truly a necessity. The Obama administration gets this and has demonstrated its commitment to breaking through jurisdictional, cultural, and bureaucratic silos to advance the principles of livable communities.”
The U.S. needs more long-term sustainable transportation planning, Blumenauer says, citing Oregon as a good model for the rest of the country. “Integrating transportation planning with community development and expanded transportation options will not only improve connectivity and influence people’s transportation choices, but also lower transportation costs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and decrease emissions. This, in effect, is what the city I represent has done over the past 30 years. Oregon passed a comprehensive land-use planning law in 1973, and it is working incredibly well. In 2008, our transit agency reported over 100 million transit boardings, the highest level of transit usage in its history. The region’s per capita gasoline usage is falling, and our number of bicycle commuters continues to rise. All of these factors point to Portland’s successful efforts to integrate good livability concepts into our transportation investment decisions.”
In terms of actually making U.S. communities more walkable and bikeable, Blumenauer argues the cost will be far less than people think. “People always think that making communities bike and pedestrian accessible is some daunting, hugely expensive task. The fact is that my hometown of Portland, Oregon, has put in almost 200 miles of bike trails for the cost of one mile of urban freeway. This isn’t an issue of retrofitting; it is often just a matter of changing the way we think about our most valuable public space: our street network. For too long, we have assumed that streets, paid for by all taxpayers, belong only to cars, and that the rest of us — bicyclists, pedestrians, sidewalk cafes, merchants, etc. — should have to compete for a small slice of sidewalk space.”
Image credit: Office of Congressman Earl Blumenauer