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Tolling Points

Highway Funding Champion Blumenauer Co-Sponsors Climate Emergency Resolution

By: 
Bill Cramer

Long-time highway funding champion, road usage charging aficionado, and avid bicycle enthusiast Earl Blumenauer, also known since 1996 as the elected representative for Oregon’s Third Congressional District, has emerged as an early supporter of a climate emergency resolution recently tabled in the U.S. Congress.

Blumenauer, who spoke at an IBTTA Finance and Policy Summit in full bicycling gear in 2015, in Portland, has long been a reasoned advocate for transportation systems that are both environmentally and economically sustainable. He was one of 5,000 volunteers for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s RUC pilot project that year, and invited conference participants to join him and his Congressional co-sponsors in a two-step process to reform and stabilize highway infrastructure funding, beginning with his advocacy for a 15¢ gas tax increase.

“Step one is to make sure Congress steps up and keeps the federal partnership vibrant and well-funded,” he said. But step two was to recognize that the gas tax is just an interim solution.

“The road usage charge isn’t just a more effective long-term solution to providing adequate resources to transportation,” he said at the time. “It’s also an opportunity to transform transportation in this country,” reduce congestion, and make the driving experience more enjoyable.

Tilt those themes 15° (even if 15¢ is currently off the table), and the values behind Blumenauer’s commitment to user-funded transportation show up in his work on climate change.

Low Profile, High Impact

Despite nearly a quarter-century in federal office, Blumenauer is a much lower-profile advocate for the climate emergency resolution than its two lead sponsors, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D, NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT). “But the Democrat is arguably the mastermind behind the resolution—he began crafting his plans to propose a national climate emergency back in February, reports Grist.

Grist cites Blumenauer as an elected leader whose standing traces back to the local level, and to a lot of hard work on legislative details. “He spent two years on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s climate change special committee, where he met several leaders who also felt strongly about the climate emergency. At the national level, he wrote the agricultural piece of the Green New Deal. In his home state of Oregon, he championed a slew of policies for the climate and the environment such as energy conservation policies, protecting public lands, cleaning Superfund sites and his famous Food and Farm Act—which offered policies to reform conservation programs and better the lives of farmers and the environment.”

It's the kind of depth and breadth that connects federal policy to the challenges communities face every day—from traffic congestion and aging infrastructure, to droughts, wildfires, and sustained heat waves—and points to solutions that work from the ground up.

As Congress plans for it’s next transportation reauthorization, time will tell if climate change initiatives are included in the overall legislation. Toll operators are certainly dealing with wildfires, hurricanes, tornados and extreme temperatures.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - 10:00

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