Dear Fellow Oregonian,
The last few weeks have been very busy indeed. I just resumed my weekly commute to Washington, D.C. from Oregon after completing a 2500-mile journey through the expansive Second District during the House of Representative's April District Work Period. During the two-week work period I hosted and attended more than fifty meetings and events in 14 counties stretching from Wallowa County in the northeast corner of the district to Jackson County in the southwest corner of the district. Though the schedule was jam-packed and the days were long, being out in the district is my favorite part of this job. Not only am I able to meet with folks on the ground to hear their concerns and ideas, but the many meetings and events help me generate my "to do" list for when I'm back in Washington, D.C.
After leaving D.C. late on Friday, April 7th, I went from home in Hood River straight to Madras (Jefferson County) for a meeting with the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) and local water users to discuss current projects they have underway in the Deschutes Basin. At the meeting I announced that the House Subcommittee on Water and Power had set a date for a hearing on legislation to reauthorize the DRC (S. 166, introduced by Senator Gordon Smith). That hearing was held yesterday and although I was tied up in an all-day Energy and Commerce Committee hearing which I could not leave, I was able to submit a statement into the record in support of S. 166 was glad that DRC Executive Director Tod Heisler was able to be in D.C. to share with my colleagues on the Subcommittee the important work of the DRC. The DRC has done tremendous things for the environment in central Oregon and works hard to bring together a diverse coalition of environmentalists, water users, local officials and others in an effort to enhance conservation and water efficiency in the Deschutes Basin. You can read my statement by clicking here.
On Monday, April 10th, I drove to the Port of Morrow in Boardman (Morrow County) for a tour of the facility and update on current activities and projects in the area. From there I went to Pendleton to speak at the Pendleton Rotary (Umatilla County). I finished up the long day in Enterprise (Wallowa County) at a community dinner, which gave me the opportunity to hear from area residents and community leaders.
On Tuesday, April 11th, I held an event in Lostine (Wallowa County) with the USDA Rural Development Director for Oregon, Mark Simmons, to present a federal investment to the city for enhancements to their water system. I then went to Elgin (Union County) to tour Omnicut, Inc., a small business that manufactures parts for the Boeing C-17, a large aircraft used for military and worldwide humanitarian aid needs. After the visit to Omnicut, I drove to La Grande to speak at the Union County Chamber of Commerce lunch and meet with local business leaders in the community. From there it was on to Baker City (Baker County) where I met with prison officials at the Powder River Prison, a correctional facility in Baker City highly regarded for its successful meth treatment program. The ongoing fight against meth in our communities remains one of my top priorities, and I understand clearly from the seven town halls I held throughout central, southern and eastern Oregon that law enforcement and treatment are two critical components to the multi-pronged approach we must take to truly combat meth. I finished up Tuesday evening speaking at a fundraiser in Baker City for the Boy Scouts of America. As an Eagle Scout myself, I am always proud and honored to participate in events for the Scouts.
Tuesday night I drove to Ontario so I could be there first thing on Wednesday morning, April 12th, for a breakfast meeting with the Malheur County Commissioners to discuss land management issues, water resources, transportation and federal funding for rural counties. I then spoke at the Ontario Rotary meeting at Treasure Valley Community College. Following that speech, I drove to Canyon City (Grant County) to meet with Grant County Commissioners. Not only was I able to meet with the Commissioners about issues we are working on in the Congress, I was able to thank Judge Dennis Reynolds for his years of service on the Grant County Commission and present him with an official statement I had put into the Congressional Record on his behalf. I then drove to John Day to join numerous local residents at a community dinner.
The next morning, on Thursday, April 13th, I drove to Burns (Harney County) where I was honored to have Bureau of Land Management Director Kathleen Clarke with me for a meeting with Steens Mountain landowners and Harney County commissioners to discuss issues relating to continued implementation of the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act, which I authored and was signed into law during a special signing ceremony in the Oval Office in 2000. Following this very productive meeting, I was again joined by USDA Rural Development Oregon Director Mark Simmons for an event at the Harney District Hospital. Thanks in part to a federal investment, the Harney District Hospital is constructing a new Critical Access Area Hospital to help service the region - the district serves an area larger than the state of Massachusetts. As co-chair of the bipartisan, 182-member Rural Health Care Coalition in the House, I remain continually focused on ensuring that rural Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.
That evening I drove to Bend (Deschutes County) from Burns so I could speak first thing on Friday morning, April 14th, at the Bend Rotary meeting. As a Rotarian (I'm a member of the Hood River Rotary Club) I was especially pleased to be in attendance for a meeting during which local high school students were participating in a speaking competition. Rotarians do a tremendous amount of work to help youth throughout the world and it is always rewarding to see kids engaged in activities such as this. After the Bend Rotary meeting on Thursday morning, I drove to Redmond to visit with local business leaders at the Redmond Chamber Coffee Chatter. Following that meeting, I held a community meeting in Maupin (Wasco County) to hear from area residents and folks throughout Wasco County after providing them with an update on activities in the Congress.
On Saturday, April 15th, I attended the West Side Fire Department breakfast in Hood River (Hood River County) as part of the annual Hood River Blossom Festival. Spending time with our brave first responders is always a significant honor. On Easter Sunday, April 16th, after attending church with my family, I helped my teenage son Anthony will his lawn mowing business as I try to do as often as possible now that spring has arrived and the grass is growing. We spent several hours that Sunday mowing lawns together in Hood River before I had to head back on the road the next day.
Last week, on Monday, April 17th, I drove back to central Oregon to help celebrate the grand opening of the newest Ochoco Community Health Clinic - the Mt. Jefferson Clinic in Madras. I was able to help Ochoco obtain an important federal designation making certain investments accessible to them for construction and operation of three facilities throughout central Oregon to help provide health care services in the area, one in Bend, one in Prineville and the new Mt. Jefferson Clinic in Madras. I received a tour of the new facility and met with clinic employees and members of the Ochoco Health Systems board of directors during my visit.
That evening I attended a very special event in Portland to honor the publication of Senator Gordon Smith's book. "Remembering Garrett." The book is a deeply moving look at the death of Garrett Smith, the Senator's son, who took his own life after battling depression. The book will be extremely helpful to other parents going through similar situations with their children and I was honored to join Senator Ron Wyden and Governor Kulongoski to take part in this event with Senator Smith and his wife, Sharon.
Also last week I spoke at the annual meeting of the American Forest Resource Council to give members an update on my work as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, including H.R. 4200, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act. This bipartisan bill would give federal land managers the tools and resources necessary to become more responsible stewards of our federal forests following catastrophic events should they determine that quick action is necessary. The bill received overwhelming support in both the House Agriculture Committee and the House Resources Committee. The next step is consideration by the Full House - we don't yet have a date when a Floor vote will happen, but I will certainly keep you posted as this legislation is critical to the long term health of national forests across America nine of which are in the Second District.
During the final days of the District Work Period last week I was in Jackson and Klamath Counties to meet with local government leaders and area residents about a variety of issues. I was able to spend some time at the VA Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC) in White City (formerly known as the White City Domiciliary) to get an update on programs at the clinic and receive a tour of the facility. I was also able to personally congratulate the administration and staff at SORCC for their excellent work, which recently received outstanding marks during a survey of patient experiences in health clinics.
I then drove to Klamath Falls for a lunch with representatives of the Klamath County Economic Development Association and local business leaders to discuss renewable energy options available to the county. Not only can alternative energy help the environment and reduce our dependency on foreign oil, renewable energy development can help create jobs and spur economic activity. As co-chair of the Renewable Energy Caucus, these efforts remain a high priority of mine. I then met with Klamath County Commissioners and mayors from cities throughout the county to discuss a variety of issues including the ongoing fight against methamphetamine and reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, commonly known as the "county payments" law. I then held a meeting with representatives from the Klamath Water Users Association that evening to discuss important issues regarding water usage, storage and regulation.
All-in-all, the District Work Period was a very busy and very productive time which allowed me to meet with a lot of folks throughout the District. I appreciate all of the feedback and ideas I received while on the road and encourage folks who would like to share thoughts on any of the issues before Congress to contact me at 800-533-3303 (toll free from the 541 area code) or via email through my website at www.walden.house.gov.
Just before the April District Work Period, I held a hearing in the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health on The Mt. Hood Stewardship Legacy Act, which Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland) and I introduced in late March. H.R. 5025 is legislation that comprehensively addresses the key issues facing one of Oregon's most notable and treasured icons: transportation, water quantity and quality, forest health, recreation, Tribal customs and heritage, local governments, and a desire for more land protected as Wilderness. The bill has already earned the bipartisan support of members in the House of Representatives and the April 5th hearing gave my colleagues a chance to hear from many of the groups impacted by this legislation, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, Campaign for America's Wilderness, local government, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. You can read testimony given during the hearing by Oregonians by clicking here. More information on our work to protect the future of Mt. Hood can be found on my website by clicking here.
On Tuesday I returned to Washington, D.C. for another hectic week of legislative activity. I have a total of five committee hearings this week, including one today in the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee to discuss a report being released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding biomass utilization. I asked the GAO to look into biomass utilization to help us, as lawmakers, determine what is successful in today's efforts and what hindrances exist to enhancing the use of biomass. Given the dual need to develop alternative sources of energy and the need to conduct fuels reduction and forest health projects across the country, biomass presents us with a unique opportunity to accomplish many goals at once.
In addition to the hearings on legislation, I have several meetings scheduled with Oregonians in D.C. to discuss policy issues including higher education, energy independence, power delivery, reauthorization of the "county payments" law, health care, economic development, land management and forest resources to name some.
This morning I held a press conference with Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) to announce legislation we've introduced to help protect access to health care for rural Americans. He and I are co-chairs of the bipartisan, 182-member Rural Health Care Coalition and are proud to be the lead sponsors of H.R. 5118, which extends critical payment methods used by Medicare to reimburse rural health care provided for services in isolated communities. As a former member of the Hood River Memorial Hospital Board of trustees and the representative for an expansive rural district, I have heard many firsthand accounts of how important access to care is and how services in rural areas of often threatened as a result of unfair and unreasonable reimbursements by Medicare. H.R. 5118 will help continue much-needed provisions to offset higher costs and make payments to rural providers more fair and equitable. You can read my announcement about this bill and statement from this morning's press conference by clicking here, or find more information on the Rural Health Care Coalition page of my website.
As you may have noticed, I've redesigned and updated my website to help better serve you. If you haven't yet had a chance, please take a minute to look through the site (www.walden.house.gov) at some of the pages with information on the federal government, the district and issues currently before the Congress. You can also use the online forms to request help with tours during an upcoming visit to our nation's capital, receive help resolving a problem or issue you're having with the federal government, order a U.S. flag flown over the U.S. Capitol for a special occasion or person, or contact me with your thoughts, concerns and ideas. If you want to send me an email, simply click on the "Email" button on the left side of my web page. As always, you can also call my Medford office toll-free from the 541 area code at 1-800-533-3303 or my Bend office at 541-389-4408. I look forward to updating you further on legislation and activities in Congress.
Congressman Greg Walden