A Road Map for Environmental Law in the Twenty-First Century: Follow the Oregon Trail

By Wyden, Ron; Sheikman, Joshua | Environmental Law, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview
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A Road Map for Environmental Law in the Twenty-First Century: Follow the Oregon Trail


Wyden, Ron, Sheikman, Joshua, Environmental Law


   Oregon is a national model for promoting strategies that protect open
   spaces and encourage smart growth. These are lessons that should be
   employed on a national level and implemented in the twenty-first century.
   In this Essay, Senator Wyden and Joshua Sheinkman share the many strategies
   used by Oregon to promote smart growth and protect its valuable open
   spaces. They then introduce a few examples undertaken on the national level
   that demonstrate how transportation and energy policies can work together
   to further environmental policies. They conclude that transportation and
   energy policies that promote smart growth and protect open spaces are the
   vehicles of development and preservation that should be used in the new
   millennium.

In many areas around the country, the November 1998 election was a national wake-up call about the importance of protecting open spaces and promoting smart growth. But for Oregon, these goals have been part of out state growth management laws for nearly thirty years.(1)

Protecting open space preserves Oregon's scenic treasures--the majestic mountains, the high desert plateaus, and the dunes of Oregon's coast. Providentially, it also protects Oregon's economic base. Without strong open-space protections in place, much of Oregon's productive farm and forest lands would be vulnerable to stripmalling or condo-mania.(2)

Oregon recognizes that for growth management to work, it's not enough to make certain areas off limits to growth and tell people they cannot build there. We also have to make the areas where we want growth to occur more attractive to developers by creating the essential infrastructure for development. Oregon's transportation, planning, and construction efforts reinforce these smart growth strategies.(3) Oregon does not just give lip service to these strategies. We actually put our money where our mouth is by providing funding for highways, sewer systems, and economic development that ensures growth occurs where we want it.

Oregon's approach to managing growth has benefits for our citizens not only where they live and breathe but also in their wallets. The flip side of protecting open space is that it helps promote more compact, smart growth that is less costly to municipalities and their taxpayers.(4) Oregon may be the best model anyone has come up with yet for how the economy and the environment can grow together. But that does not mean we cannot build on and improve the model. And certainly we can do more at the national level to build environmental goals into federal transportation, energy, and economic development policies.

We have seen a few examples at the federal level of how transportation and energy policies can work together with and be vehicles for furthering environmental policies. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990(5) require transportation projects in nonattainment areas(6) to conform to the state's implementation plans for achieving air quality standards in order to receive federal funding.(7) This requirement prevents conflict between transportation projects and environmental goals. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991(8) took this a step further by creating the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program that provides federal funding for projects that help achieve or maintain air quality standards.(9) And the Energy Policy Act of 1992(10) achieved a "regulatory trifecta" by creating an alternative fuel vehicle program that simultaneously promotes energy, environmental, and transportation policy goals.

Most recently, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21)(11) included two initiatives to better align transportation and environmental policies. The Transportation and Community System Preservation Program,(12) which we authored, created the first federal incentives for good local growth management by providing grant funding to states and communities that want to integrate their transportation programs with their environmental protection and growth management strategies.

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