Enough Smoke. Enough Fires.
Enough is enough. When Cycle Oregon and performances at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland get canceled because of fires and the toxic smoke, it’s long past time for Congress to address how federal forests are managed and how fires are fought (or not), including policies that affect firefighting in wilderness areas.
When people in Central Oregon, the Gorge (or just about anywhere on the east side this summer) are told to stay inside, it’s time for a change in federal policy so that decisions to let fires burn include a review of how doing so will add carbon and toxic pollutants into the atmosphere, threaten habitat and water quality and destroy private timberlands and property.
It’s also time for the U.S. Senate to stop blocking our bipartisan legislation that has passed overwhelmingly in the House year-after-year which would help prevent catastrophic forest fires by allowing proper management. Further, the bill would provide resources to clean up after forest fires and restore the forests with new trees for another generation.
The House Resources Committee has once again approved legislation--Resilient Federal Forests Act--that solves the fire borrowing problem, but more importantly, gives foresters and firefighters new tools to help protect our forests, watersheds and airsheds from the kinds of disasters we endured this summer. I know we’re always going to have fires, but we must find better ways to control and extinguish them.
Soon the House will take up this measure and send it to the Senate. I’m convinced President Trump will sign it into law if only we can get it to his desk.
Throughout the month of August, I traveled across our vast district meeting with veterans, small business owners, local community leaders, and even introduced the Secretary of Energy to eastern Oregon. These meetings are invaluable to my work as your representative in Congress, and help me update my “to-do” list to take back to the nation’s capital. From improving the care our veterans receive at the VA to strengthening hydropower in our state and cleaning up nuclear waste, I heard from Oregonians on the ground who gave me a lot to add to that list!
I hope you’ll continue reading to learn more about my month of August as I met with Oregonians from Grants Pass to Umatilla.
Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base, Klamath Falls
I kicked off the month of August in Klamath County, with a meeting and tour of the Kingsley Air Base. Kingsley is critical to our nation's security and military readiness, and is the only base in the world that trains future F-15 fighter pilots to defend our country, and our allies, in the skies.
I want to especially thank Colonel Jeff Smith and the entire team at Kingsley for your service and for taking the time to meet with me. We’re working together to make sure Kingsley is part of future defense missions and has the modern equipment and facilities necessary for the world-class effort they lead.
Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls
After my meeting at Kingsley Air Base, I had the opportunity to visit Oregon Institute of Technology’s geothermal plants. Oregon Tech is home to the world’s first combined geothermal heat and power plant on a university campus, and is the only university campus in the United States heated by on-site geothermal energy. Oregon Tech is not only taking advantage of this great renewable resource in the Klamath basin, but also training students to go out and further innovate in the renewable energy space.
It was great to meet Oregon Tech’s new President Nagi Naganathan, and see the cutting-edge work taking place on campus. As Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I’m committed to making sure renewable energy and the latest technological advances are incorporated in federal law. The Committee is in the midst of reviewing the nation’s electrical grid to assess its adequacy and security needs. Making sure we can connect next generation power sources to the grid, and making sure the grid can withstand cyberattacks and effectively manage the power load, are all part of our work.
On the Road
Unfortunately, our skies were once again choked with smoke from wildfire -- like this one I saw on my way to Lakeview. We need to change federal law and get more active management in our forests to reduce fire fuels and create jobs. Thank you to all of the firefighters who have been knocking down intense fires across our state this summer. I’m committed to giving our firefighters new authority to get their job done.
MC Chuck Wagon Exhibit, Lakeview
After my meetings in Klamath, I headed over to Lake County for a glimpse into history that is so unique to our part of Oregon.
Early in the year, I was invited to see the MC Chuck Wagon Museum in Lakeview and present an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of the museum's new flag pole. This exhibit is home to one of the greatest chuck wagon outfits in the West, and preserves an understanding of the way of life upon which ranching communities like Lakeview were built.
I encourage you to visit the museum and check out the rich history preserved there.
VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC), White City
In Jackson County, I convened a meeting with veterans and VA officials at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC) in White City to get an update on their progress to improve care for those who have worn our nation’s uniform.
I’ve heard repeatedly from veterans about the challenges of getting in to see a provider at some of the many VA facilities around the Northwest. Too often, these facilities have a difficult time recruiting medical providers, as SORCC officials told me earlier this year.
It turns out, the VA lacks the ability to compete with other private or other public employers when it comes to student loan reimbursements as a recruitment tool for providers. That’s why I’ve recently introduced legislation called the Doctors for Veterans Act. This legislation will help reduce wait times for Oregon veterans, improve their access to quality care in a timely manner, and help the VA recruit medical providers to care for veterans in rural and underserved areas in Oregon and throughout the country.
By the way, my legislation to set allow medical scribes in the VA sailed through the House unanimously. This measure would test whether having a scribe do the paperwork will free up valuable medical providers to spend more quality time with more patients. It’s worked in the private sector, and we think it can work for the VA.
You can read more about the Doctors for Veterans legislation here: https://walden.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/greg-walden-takes-action-reduce-wait-times-oregon-veterans
Mercy Flights, Medford
Photo courtesy of theDove T.V.
For more than a year, I’ve worked with local and national ambulance providers to update federal funding policies to make sure that these first responders are adequately paid, especially for services provided in remote and rural areas. We’re very close to legislation that will accomplish that while also cracking down where there is potential for waste or fraud.
During the District Work Period in August, I went to the Rogue Valley International Airport to meet with Mercy Flights. Mercy Flights is a non-profit organization that provides critical emergency response to the local community in southern Oregon. Several months ago, I worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to provide a more-timely processing of the training and certifications their pilots need.
You can learn more about my meeting with Mercy Flights here: https://thedove.us/7738-2/
Photo courtesy of theDove T.V.
Timber Products, Medford
This summer, I organized a meeting with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and leaders of the hardwood plywood mills in our region to discuss the unfair trade practices China has used to corner 54% of this market and threaten our family-wage jobs in mills like Timber Products in Medford. The Trump Administration is committed to helping fight back against Chinese companies when they don’t play by the rules.
Hundreds of men and women in southern Oregon work at Timber Products’ hardwood plywood plant in Medford.
In addition to seeing this modern facility and learning about what all goes into making hardwood plywood, which is primarily used for cabinets, we also discussed the need for access to more federal timber. For the fifth time in five years, the House is moving forward with major forest policy reform legislation, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which will help protect these workers’ jobs and put people back to work in our woods.
The timber industry is incredibly important to our economy and way of life in Oregon. During my meeting, we discussed the importance of pushing back against unfair trade practices from countries like China. You can learn more about my meeting at Timber Products here: http://ktvl.com/news/local/rep-greg-walden-visits-timber-products-to-discuss-timber-legislation-action
As Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I’ve directed an effort this year to update and reauthorize the federal Brownfields Program -- something that hasn’t occurred in more than a decade. This important environmental stewardship program provides a federal partnership with states, local governments and private entities to clean up old, polluted sites and make these lands available once again as industrial sites.
Just outside of Grants Pass, I joined local officials in a tour of the old Spalding & Son Mill site. The city of Grants Pass just secured assistance to begin the process of cleaning up this old industrial site through what is known as the “Brownfields Program.” The Brownfields Program has had great success boosting local economies in Oregon by redeveloping sites like the old Spalding & Son mill.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously approved the Brownsfields legislation in June. We anticipate it coming to the whole House for a vote early this fall. You can learn more about this work here: https://walden.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/greg-walden-applauds-brownfields-assistance-secured-grants-pass
In Deschutes County, I’ve heard concerns about potential changes to access for some of the most popular trails in the Central Cascades Wilderness. I convened a meeting between local Forest Service officials and representatives of outdoor recreation and tourism groups to discuss the need for the agency’s proposals.
During a very positive discussion, we heard concerns about limiting access and about making sure the Central Cascades Wilderness is not overcrowded and overused. As good stewards of our precious public lands we have to make sure that they don’t get overrun, especially in the fragile alpine areas. As a native Oregonian, I want to make sure that we also continue to have responsible access to our public lands to recreate. I appreciated hearing the various viewpoints as the Forest Service works to strike the right balance so that we promote responsible use of the wilderness while not unnecessarily limiting public access.
Meeting with local Forest Service officials and representatives of outdoor recreation and tourism groups in Bend.
Crooked River Ranch, Terrebonne
Back to the issue of our fire and smoke-filled summer and what we can do to reduce the risk. I organized a meeting at Crooked River Ranch with local officials and residents who are deeply concerned that federal lands immediately adjacent to the residences could catch fire in a way that could cause a major disaster at the Ranch.
Crooked River Ranch Fire and Rescue Chief Rich Hoffman and Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins took me on a tour of the area to drive home their concern. The community has worked hard to provide defensible space and reduce the risk of fire on the private lands. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the neighboring federal land where dense sagebrush, juniper and other fire fuels within the Wilderness Study Area (WSA) create a tinderbox each summer that puts the community in harm’s way.
Hiking through the WSA while visiting with community members and local firefighters made clear the threat. I also heard from local BLM staff about how they would thin and manage the area to restore the landscape and mitigate fire if it were not restricted by federal policy under a WSA. It’s time we make the commonsense change to the WSA boundary, and I’m glad that my legislation to get that done -- the Crooked River Ranch Fire Protection Act -- is moving forward in the House.
All we’re talking about is moving an arbitrary boundary back a few hundred yards to the edge of the cliff, which would allow the kind of thinning treatment that fire officials encourage every homeowner in Central Oregon to do.
Learn more about this legislation here: https://walden.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/greg-walden-plan-protect-crooked-river-ranch-wildfire-moves-forward
On the Road
For more than 20 years, my wife and I owned and operated the radio stations in Hood River and worked closely with the local first responders when emergencies occurred. These brave men and women--mostly volunteers--drop what they are doing and race to save property and lives. Moreover, they spend countless hours in educational classes and hands on training so that they are as prepared and safe as possible. Annually, the Wy’East Volunteer Fire and EMS Association pays tribute to those who lost their lives in service to the community.
Fire Chief Greg Borton invited to me participate in the Association’s 15th Annual Memorial and BBQ at the Odell Fire Department. I praised and thanked those who serve and the families who support them. I also presented a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of the firefighters, police officers, and first responders who serve the good people of Hood River County. God Bless you all.
McNary Dam, Umatilla
Energy Secretary Rick Perry came to Oregon, at my request, to tour McNary Dam and discuss the importance of the Columbia and Snake River hydropower system to this region with local and regional leaders at an energy roundtable in Umatilla County. The Secretary was impressed with the size and scope of the dam and the tremendous, no-carbon-emitting power resource we have that’s helping grow the economy in the Columbia Basin and the Northwest. We were also joined by my Washington State colleague, Rep. Dan Newhouse for the tour. Bonneville Power Administrator Elliot Mainzer joined the Secretary and me in a round table discussion with community leaders and stakeholders after our tour of the dam. The Bonneville Power Administration plays a vital role in the Northwest, and I once again made clear my opposition to the Administration’s idea to sell it off.
Of course, Secretary Perry couldn't leave Umatilla County without a famous Hermiston watermelon!
Hydropower is incredibly important to Oregon’s energy mix. At the Energy and Commerce Committee -- where I serve as chairman -- we’re working to promote hydro and ensure Oregon consumers continue to have access to reliable and affordable electricity generated from hydropower and other sources including renewables, gas and nuclear. From data centers to value-added agricultural processing, economic opportunities continue to present themselves along the Columbia River and throughout the Northwest thanks to this abundant, affordable energy source. I know Secretary Perry left our region with a new appreciation for the importance of renewable hydropower and the role played by BPA.
Secretary Perry holds the microphones as Rep. Dan Newhouse looks on during our news conference in front of McNary Dam.
Hanford Site – Richland, Washington
The next day, Secretary Perry and I joined Rep. Newhouse and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell to get briefings at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland and to get an update on cleanup efforts at the Hanford Site -- which sits just 40 miles north of our district along the Columbia River. Our first stop was the Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response (HAMMER) Federal Training Center. We observed hands-on worker training at HAMMER, that’s helping keep safe the thousands of employees who work at the Hanford Site and deal with hazardous materials on a daily basis. They are truly on the front lines of the cleanup effort and the top-notch training we saw at HAMMER makes sure Hanford employees can safely do their work.
Before we began our tour of the Hanford Site, we took a few questions from local media and discussed the importance of cleaning up nuclear waste across the country. At the Energy and Commerce Committee, we passed bipartisan legislation that establishes permanent and interim nuclear waste storage that will facilitate in cleaning up sites like Hanford.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act advanced through the Energy and Commerce Committee with significant bipartisan support -- on a 49-4 basis -- and fulfills the federal government’s obligation to permanently dispose of spent nuclear fuel from our communities.
Hanford’s nuclear waste is destined for permanent storage at the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada. This legislation will make that happen.
I was born in The Dalles and live in Hood River, so the Columbia River has always been part of my life. I am fully committed to cleaning up Hanford as soon as possible. The federal government not only has a legal obligation, but also a moral obligation, to get this job done for people who live along the Columbia and the communities surrounding Hanford.
During our tour, I had the chance to speak before Hanford employees about the importance of their work and my priorities as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee to finish Yucca Mountain and clean-up sites like Hanford. Hanford employees are truly engaged in historic work, and they should know that the federal government has their back.
To learn more about our work at the Energy and Commerce Committee to clean up spent nuclear waste at the Hanford Site and across the country, check out my recent op-ed in the East Oregonian: http://www.eastoregonian.com/eo/columnists/20170626/walden-want-to-clean-up-hanford-finish-yucca-mountain
Back to Washington
While I only covered the highlights from some of my many meetings in August, as you can see the work I’m doing back in the nation’s capital directly relates to the problems, challenges and opportunities we have here at home.
If you’d like to know more about what Congress IS getting done, click on www.didyouknow.gop