Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was one of several mayors who appeared Wednesday before a congressional panel to describe how their communities are tackling climate change.
They all told the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing their cities.
In 1993, Portland became one of the first cities in the United States to develop a climate action plan. Wheeler pushed back during his testimony against the idea that promoting sustainable development has to be at odds with supporting the economy.
“We understand that aggressive climate action creates prosperous communities,” Wheeler said. “In Portland our population has exploded, our economy has continued to thrive, but we have been successful at reducing our carbon emissions.”
As of 2017, Wheeler said, Portland had reduced its per-person carbon emissions by 38% since 1990. There are also 38% more residents and 34% more jobs.
Wheeler said that the steps Portland has taken to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions were some of the same things that brought people to the city: walkable neighborhoods with restaurants and shopping, and investment in parks, sidewalks and bikeways.
Although Portland has made progress toward meeting carbon goals, Wheeler noted that the progress has stalled in recent years, echoing the words of other mayors who testified. Emissions from transit vehicles have increased in Portland in recent years, despite innovations in technology. In order to make transit more effective, Wheeler said cities need federal help.
“Cities continue to struggle due to a lack of federal support for transportation infrastructure,” Wheeler said, arguing that the federal government should increase the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. He also called for the removal of regulatory barriers that prevent cities from building toll roads.