News that President Joe Biden will visit the Northwest this week affords us the opportunity to give him a piece of our minds — so to speak.
Early details were scant, but White House officials confirmed last week that Biden would visit the Portland area on Thursday and Seattle on Friday. It will be his first trip to the Northwest since taking the oath of office in January 2021.
It is unlikely that Biden will engage in old-time revivals like his predecessor; that’s not his style. But it is likely that he will engage with local leaders in serious conversations about serious topics.
Some issues are of national importance — inflation, border security, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; those topics impact all Americans. But there also are topics of particular concern to the people of the Northwest, local issues that carry so much weight they should be of concern to the White House as well.
Preeminent among those is a replacement for the Interstate 5 Bridge. The bridge’s older span across the Columbia River opened in 1917, and neither span is well-equipped to serve modern needs. There are issues with congestion and seismic safety, and traffic comes to a halt about 300 times a year for a bridge lift. Having a drawbridge on a major interstate freeway is an antiquated idea; the bridge has, literally, the only stoplight along I-5 between Canada and Mexico.
Local residents are fully aware of this, but seeing the situation up close might help the president glean a better understanding of it.
That is the importance of a visit from Biden or any other president. Fully understanding issues that matter to Americans often requires meeting with those Americans close to their homes.
While the I-5 Bridge impacts the broader economy, it is not the only Northwest issue of national importance. We hope that Biden will be made aware of — and pressed on — other important items.
Among them is the federal government’s decades of lax attention to cleanup efforts at the Hanford site, about 200 miles upstream from Vancouver along the Columbia River. For decades, Washington did its part in producing the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Now, the remnants of that production threaten an ecological disaster in the middle of Washington. The federal government must do its part to clean that up.
Also among the pressing issues is forest management. The U.S. Forest Service owns more than 9 million acres of land in Washington, and effective management — and logging — of those lands is crucial to preventing wildfires and to the regional economy.
An increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires reflects how climate change is impacting the Northwest. Other signs can be seen along the coast and through agricultural areas, where jobs and productivity are being affected by warming temperatures.
Fisheries and agriculture — along with the manufacturing sector — also are hampered by arcane trade policies and a specious trade war initiated by former President Donald Trump. Biden has neglected to reverse those policies, and Washington officials should stress the benefits that open and free trade provide for the people of our state.
Many of these issues directly impact the economy. They are specific to the Northwest, but they ripple throughout the nation. Between them, Washington and Oregon account for 3.6 percent of the United States’ population, but they generate 4.1 percent of the GDP.
A visit from the president gives local officials an opportunity to drive home these points. They should take advantage of it this week.