Newsletter: Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
Greetings from Washington, D.C. where I returned last evening from an exchange in Europe organized by the House Energy and Commerce Committee (of which I am a member) to learn more about how that continent is addressing the challenge of climate change and energy efficiency. The Energy & Commerce Committee is responsible for drafting any legislation dealing with climate change. Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Congressman Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), also members of the committee, were among those joining me on the trip. We visited Denmark, Germany and Britain and met with many government and industry leaders. It was a rare week for me to not return to Oregon and the Second District, and the information we learned will be tremendously helpful in the discussion in our nation's capital on this key issue. I look forward to updating you in detail on what I learned in the next installment of the Congressional Connection.
Today I head up to Cannon Mountain in Franconia, New Hampshire to participate in a field hearing of the new Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming (of which I am a member). I've filled you in about this select committee in prior updates, and while it's a new House committee that is separate from the Energy and Commerce Committee, the issues being investigated and discussed are very similar. Whereas the Energy and Commerce Committee has many issues under its jurisdiction including healthcare, telecommunications and oversight of products for consumer safety, the new select committee focuses exclusively on the energy independence and climate change issue. The chairman, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), indicated today's hearing in New Hampshire will be the first of many field hearings around the country to get a first-hand look at climate change. I return to Washington, D.C. late this evening and we go back into session in the House tomorrow.
Since my last formal update, much has occurred. As you may be aware, there were some major developments in the effort to extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act (county payments). There has also been much work on appropriations bills and numerous committee hearings. Amid all my other duties, I launched a brand new caucus that heightens the awareness of a strong, yet sometimes overlooked, industry (hint: it's produced and enjoyed the world over, but Oregonians have taken the craft to a whole new level). Read on to learn more.
One more note before we get into the meat of the update. I recently reached something of a milestone - 300 round trips between my home and our district in Oregon and Washington, D.C. At this point I have actually completed 302 round trips since taking office in 1999. The total distance is about 1.5 million miles, the equivalent of three round trips to the moon and almost 60 orbits of the earth. An astronaut would cover that distance in a tidy 89 hours, but it took me 3,000 hours, or 125 full days! Over that time, I have made it a high priority to consistently visit all corners of the 20 counties in the Second District as often as I can, a task easier said than done due to the time commitment in the nation's capital and also because of the sheer size of the area I represent. But, with a total of over 2,200 events and meetings in the district, I'm continuing to do my best to stay closely connected in person and will keep that up. There's no substitute for visiting with residents in person and hearing directly what's important to people locally, and I rely on it to create my "to-do" list to take back to Washington, D.C. each week.
There's much to update you on, so let's get into it.
I. DC Action
Congress enacted the county payments program after the federal government and lawsuits dramatically curtailed timber harvests in the national forests, thus threatening the viability of counties and school districts that relied on the timber sales for many decades. The program's expiration last year, combined with the ongoing minimal federal timber sales, forced forested counties and schools to the brink of budget disaster. Scores of pink slips have been delivered to county and school district employees who keep our roads plowed, rescue citizens in need of help, and educate our children, to name just a few services.
However, the strongly bipartisan and assertive effort in the Congress over the past year to renew county payments and keep the government's century-old promise to rural and forested communities produced some good news the week before last. The House and Senate agreed to a full one-year emergency extension of the funds, which was signed into law by the President on May 25. The same legislation also included essential funding for our troops in Iraq and a short list of emergency needs, including funding for wildland firefighting.
Of course, a one-year lifeline for county payments is not enough. I and the rest of the delegation are 100 percent committed to doing everything in our power to find a longer-term solution for the people of Oregon. On May 17, for example, Senator Ron Wyden joined me in detailing the predicament and directly pressing Oregon's needs to President Bush at the White House. I spoke about the need for a long-term fix on the House floor, and in doing so reminded my colleagues about what is happening to the rural West. As I told my colleagues on the floor: "I will not give up. I will not quit. I will not rest. The Congress will be forced to address this issue over and over and over again until we reach agreement on a long-term solution."
On a related front, a bipartisan group of my colleagues and I are working to achieve stronger forest health measures which in turn would provide revenues to help offset the federal government's county payments expenditures. But until that effort produces greater results, the current county payments program is critical to the infrastructure of our rural counties and school districts.
I visit with so many Oregonians in my office in Washington, D.C. that it hardly seems necessary to mention that if you are coming to the nation's capital, please come pay me a visit! My staff gives fantastic tours of the Capitol and one of the highlights of my day is always seeing folks from home. Speaking of which, constituents from all across the district stopped by in the last couple of weeks: Warm Springs, Grants Pass, Hood River, Baker City, Central Point, Lakeview, Ashland, Medford, Eagle Point, North Powder, Bend, Klamath Falls, Pendleton, Dufur, Phoenix, Milton-Freewater, Bonanza, Condon, Echo, La Pine, Hermiston, Sunriver, Island City, The Dalles, Nyssa, Ontario, La Grande, Prineville, and Christmas Valley.
Committee work remains busy, with at least one hearing nearly every day we are in the capital. Topics we have covered on both the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming since I wrote you last include food safety and the FDA, the digital future of the United States, "Dangerous Climate Change," appliance efficiency standards, "smart" electric grids, the economic impacts of climate change on insurance, alternative fuel development, the economics of dependence on foreign oil, and the 2006 Prudhoe Bay shutdown.
One particular hearing in the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was encouraging for Oregon's forests. Dr. John Helms, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and a past president of the Society of American Foresters, told the committee that "emphasis must be placed on maintaining forest health using thinning to avoid overstocking that increases mortality from drought, insects, disease, and wildfire. When catastrophes occur, these areas, unless in parks or reserves, should be promptly regenerated to ensure rapid restoration of forest cover." The other panelists agreed that responsible management is critical to maintaining forest health and, consequently, contributing to the forests' ability to sequester atmospheric carbon.
I am enthused to officially announce the launch of the House Small Brewers Caucus. I am co-chairing the 33-member strong bipartisan group with my colleague from Oregon, Congressman Peter DeFazio. Our aim for the caucus is to provide an interactive opportunity for colleagues to learn about the dynamics of running a small business as a brewery, the brewing process itself and the quality and value of their beers and brewing activities. We kicked things off on Tuesday, May 15 during American Craft Brew Week, which recognizes America's small, independent and traditional brewers and contributions the craft beer community makes to our economy, culture and history. Deschutes Brewery President Gary Fish, who is also a board member for the Brewery Association, was also at the event. And, yes, we enjoyed a bottle of his fantastic product!
Oregon Public Broadcasting produced a feature on what a day in the life for all the members of the Oregon delegation is like. Reporter Chad Pergram followed me around on April 24 to get a glimpse of the busy schedule I keep around the capital. You can listen to the report here, or read the transcript here.
II. On the Oregon Trail
Luckily, votes on Thursday, April 26 were finished early enough for me to make it back to Oregon on Thursday night so I could make the drive down to central Oregon on Friday, April 27 to attend a couple of events focusing on health care and economic development.
My first stop was at the Mountain View Hospital in Madras, which represented the 16th time I have made an official stop in Jefferson County since taking office in 1999. As co-chair of the bipartisan, 172-member House Rural Health Care Coalition, I was delighted to receive a tour of the facility from Mountain View Hospital Administrator Jay Henry. We discussed the bill I introduced with Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) to require fair rural representation on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (HR 1730), the commission advises that Congress on Medicare reimbursement issues. Currently just one of its 17 members has bona fide rural health care credentials, despite the fact that 28 percent of Medicare beneficiaries reside in rural areas.
Then I made the drive to Sisters and the wonderful FivePine Lodge and Conference Center for a roundtable discussion on local economic development and "green" business in Sisters. FivePine Operations Director Jeanne Fairman discussed green business, YO! Productions Principle Mark Yoakum talked about sustainable tourism and Sisters Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cheryl Mills gave us some insight on sustainable industry. As a member of the new climate change committee, I was very interested to hear about what FivePine Lodge is doing to make itself more sustainable and create economic activity for the region at the same time. You can read more about my visit to Sisters here.
The following three weekends I was honored to join both the Burns and Redmond communities to pay my respects to Marine Lance Cpl Dale G. Peterson, who was killed in Iraq on April 23, and the Hood River community to pay my respects to Army Sgt. Jason Shaffer, who was killed in Iraq on April 5.
Lance Cpl Peterson grew up in Burns (where his mother lives) and graduated from Redmond High School in 2005 (his father lives in Redmond), and was assigned to 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. His wife, Lance Cpl Reggie Peterson, graduated from Mountain View High School in Bend and is currently based out of Camp Lejeune.
Sgt. Jason Shaffer grew up in Pennsylvania and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. His wife, Katie, resides in Hood River.
The communities really turned out to honor these heroes and support their families. The entire country owes a debt to Lance Cpl Peterson and Sgt Shaffer that can never be repaid. Their families remain in my prayers during this most difficult time.
III. Congressional Art Competition results
We have a winner in the Second District's 2007 Congressional art competition, An Artistic Discovery. Megan Morrow of The Dalles Wahtonka High School has been selected as the overall winner for her ink on canvas piece titled The Anatomy of a Classic. Her artwork will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol for one year.
Breanna Mohr, a sophomore at Cascade Locks School, was selected as runner-up for the district. Breann's digital media artwork titled Faded Flower will hang for one year in my Washington, D.C. office.
Mikayla Ryan, a junior at Cascade Locks School, was selected as second runner-up. Mikayla's digital photo titled Eagle Creek Bridge will be displayed for one year in my Medford district office.
Kristen Rutherford, also a junior at Cascade Locks School, was selected as third runner-up for the district. Kristen's digital photo titled Through Time will be displayed for one year in my Bend district office.
An Artistic Discovery is a tremendous s opportunity for young people interested in art and I want to thank all those who participated, including a dedicated and fantastic team from college art programs throughout the state. We had many fantastic works submitted for this year's competition, and all of the students should be proud.
IV. Fall interns
My Washington, D.C. office is currently accepting applications for interns for the fall. Interns are an integral part of my office as they help with office management, constituent services and various other hands-on projects. Serving as a congressional intern is an exciting educational opportunity for those interested in learning more about the Congress and in the inner-workings of an office in the House of Representatives. Those interested should fax or e-mail their resume with a cover letter, as well as any questions they might have, to Melinda McIntyre in my Washington, D.C. office (Melinda.email@example.com or fax: (202) 225-5774). Applicants should be in college or graduate school, or recent graduates of either, and willing to spend approximately three months working in the office.
As always, for more on the goings-on in Congress, you can always refer to the Library of Congress website here. And you can always reach me through my website or by contacting any of my offices in Oregon or Washington, D.C. Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter, and I look forward to updating you again soon on my work for the people of Oregon's Second District.
Congressman Greg Walden