A lifelong resident of Portland, Oregon, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR-3) has devoted his entire career to public service.
He was elected to the Oregon Legislature in 1972, where he served three terms and Chaired the House Education and Revenue Committee in 1977-78. In 1978, he was elected to the Multnomah County Commission, where he served for eight years before being elected to the Portland City Council in 1986. There, his 10-year tenure as the Commissioner of Public Works demonstrated his leadership on the innovative accomplishments in transportation, planning, environmental programs and public participation that have helped Portland earn an international reputation as one of America’s most livable cities.
Elected to the US House of Representatives in 1996, Mr. Blumenauer has created a unique role as Congress’ chief spokesperson for Livable Communities: places where people are safe, healthy and economically secure. From 1996 to 2007, he served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he was a strong advocate for federal policies that address transportation alternatives, provide housing choices, support sustainable economies and improve the environment. He was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee from 2001 to 2007, and vice-chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming from 2007 to 2010. He is currently a member of the Ways and Means Committee and the subcommittees on Health, Social Security and Trade.
Starting to Make the Right Decisions
It’s fascinating for me to watch the pace of change accelerate…We have over two-dozen cities now dealing with modern streetcars. Virtually every community has light rail. We’re watching signature efforts in the city of New York to reclaim parts of the right of way, to repurpose them for people and non-mechanized transportation…I actually am quite encouraged by the leadership from coast to coast, what people are figuring out on their own and being able to make the case to local voters and secure significant investments to help them cope with the future.
Water: The Crisis Hidden Under the Surface
Potholes, bridges falling down are visible and capture people’s attention, but we have 1.8 million miles of sewer and water pipe, much of it at or past the end of its useful life. We leak more water than we drink every day. We have a situation like Flint, Michigan where a community paid as near as I can tell the highest rates for water in the country and it was unsafe. But what’s coming out in media accounts is that the lead condition is not unique to Flint…Because of aging infrastructure, because there are hundreds of thousands of jurisdictions that are involved with water supply and treatment, because we’re learning more about the problems in our drinking water supply, these challenges are growing more complex and more expensive.
An Explosion of Bicycling Around the Country
Literally from coast to coast, people are rediscovering the most efficient form of urban transportation ever invented. We see over fifty bike share programs that extend that cycling experience in a very convenient way to the general public. We look at aggressive efforts of safe routes to school so children can walk and bike safely and relieve parents from the obligation of having a double commute in the morning…We’re watching the bicycle be part of affordability for housing. Every attractive urban center is challenged by affordable housing, congestion. Increasing the bicycle mode split is a way that reduces demands on the roadway and it is an affordable option as opposed to investing $10,000 a year for a car.
Education Is the Key to Public Support
If I had my way, every single congressional district across the country would host a forum that would include the men and women who build, manage, construct, and operate America’s infrastructure…I think there is a huge coalition on all our infrastructure that we need to assemble to be part of conversations that need to occur in every community. It’s not particularly headline grabbing unless there’s a system failure, but it is past time that we force this issue in every community. There is no substitute for engaging people in a very specific analysis of what happens in their own backyard and what the benefits are for getting this right.
Reason to Be Optimistic About Future Policies
I’m seeing the pieces coming together. I’m seeing more action in metropolitan areas around the country…Growing awareness out of crises for water, sewer, lead—all of these come together at a time when we’re going to turn the page for a new administration. I think you’re going to get a better Congress. And this is an area that does not have to be partisan if we can build on some of the recent momentum. We’re seeing the advocates much better organized and articulate, and our bridging that gap to deal with individual citizens around the country puts us in a position, after the first of the year, to be able to make some significant progress if we all do our part.