Oregon Delegation Presses for Infrastructure Improvements and Disaster Recovery Resources

Washington, D.C. – In the wake of recent weather disasters striking Oregon and the entire country, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden led U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici today in asking top congressional appropriators to prioritize funding on infrastructure improvements and disaster recovery with an emphasis on energy resiliency and housing.

The letter from the Oregon lawmakers notes that much of the state recently endured the added challenge of a destructive winter storm on top of dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s climate-driven wildfires.

“This storm left power lines and trees coated in ice, both of which brought down power lines when they snapped under the additional weight, broke utility poles, and blocked roads,” they wrote Senate and House appropriators. “The ensuing power outages extended across the state, cutting off power in subfreezing weather to more than 400,000 people.  The sheer scale of the damage, combined with the extreme weather, slowed recovery efforts, causing some residents to remain in their homes without power for weeks, including many who are still without power at the writing of this letter.”

The letter from Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer and Bonamici also said that facing the extreme cold without power was a life-or-death situation for many Oregonians. 

“At least four deaths have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning as people had to resort to alternate sources of heating to keep warm,” the Oregon lawmakers wrote. “Unable to heat their own homes, others congregated together to share heating sources, further risking the spread of COVID-19.  The extended loss of power also disrupted life for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, who rely on electricity to run life-saving medical equipment and keep medications refrigerated.

“Additionally, the weather complicated COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Oregon, forcing vaccination sites to cancel appointments and move vaccine doses to limit spoilage,” they added. “Beyond these unique and tragic consequences, the everyday effects of the prolonged loss of power were the waste of thousands of pounds of perishable food, and students missing valuable hours of learning and study.”

Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer and Bonamici wrote that while many parts of the country have experienced harsh weather, Oregon’s prolonged power outages stem from unique challenges that require additional assistance to remedy. 

“Rather than challenges related to surging demand or a lack of available electricity, it was unprecedented loads of ice and snow that brought down thousands of transmission and distribution lines, fracturing the electrical grid and cutting off power to hundreds of thousands of Oregonians,” they wrote. “Recovery efforts will continue long after the ice melts as utility crews work to protect transmission assets that remain in danger due to broken branches and trees still at risk of falling onto power lines weeks or months later.  Additional funds are urgently needed to restore critical power infrastructure that was damaged or destroyed during the storms and to improve the resiliency of these important assets.”

A PDF of the entire letter to Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL), House Appropriations Chair Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) and House Appropriations Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-TX) is here.