Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
Much has happened since my last update to you, and a busy week is already underway in the nation's capital.
County Timber Payments Update
I've tried to really turn up the heat on the county timber payments issue by once again giving daily speeches on the floor of the House to once again inform those in charge of the very serious consequences that are impacting Oregon counties. For example, can you imagine the state of Rhode Island with only six deputies to patrol it? That's the situation facing Josephine County because those in charge in Congress have failed to keep the 100-year-old federal commitment to rural counties. Basic services are getting whacked while Congress fails to act.
Meanwhile, bipartisan legislation that Rep. Peter DeFazio and I along with many other House members have authored is sitting on the "union calendar" where it's been since January 15 after the House committees finished their approval process. When a bill is on the "Union Calendar" it means it's ready for scheduling for a vote by the full House. All it takes is for the Majority Leader to put it on the schedule. Both Peter and I have called on the Democratic leadership to let us have a vote and yet, nothing has happened. So, on Thursday, I got the Republican Leadership to formally inquire of the Democratic Leadership regarding HR 3058. You can watch the colloquy by clicking here.
In addition, I've asked for the country payments reauthorization legislation to be added to either the emergency supplemental legislation we'll vote on this week, or to the farm bill, which might also be voted on this week. In short, I'm continuing to look for any moving legislative vehicle.
Healthy Forest Restoration Act
Disturbing news this week from U.S. Forest Service officials in Central Oregon regarding the landmark Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which I helped author several years ago to allow expedited treatment of fuels built up in our forests. Seems the agency's attorneys now say it needs changes to allow it to work better outside of the "wildland urban interface"the area immediately adjacent to homes and communities.
The whole idea of HFRA was to give our professional foresters the tools they need to get our forests back in balance through forest debris removal and thinning. Where they've done this work, we've seen dramatic reductions in catastrophic fire damage and improved forest health.
It looks like we'll need to update this law to provide them with the authority they need to engage in landscape-wide work. So many of these unnaturally burning fires are starting way back in the forests and come roaring out toward our homes and communities, destroying habitat and degrading streams in their path. (Just look at the area around Suttle Lake in Central Oregon, for example, of fire behavior where treatments had occurred and where the forest was overstocked.)
It's back to the legislative drawing board for me on this one.
Climate Change, Snow Pack and Water
This year of the "never-ending-winter" has given us terrific snow packs and should add up to a solid water year across the West. (And, it's made for great skiing, too, I might add.) Ironically, some lakes, reservoirs and stock ponds across eastern Oregon are not filling like we would hope because the cold spring has not produced the normal runoff.
Proving that the "third time is the charm," last week the House once again approved my package of bills that address water projects all across the district. These measures authorize safety improvements at Wallowa Lake Dam, reauthorize the Deschutes River Conservancy, provide needed help in the Rogue basin, and make changes needed for the North Unit Irrigation District to reduce diversions from the Crooked River.
These changes were years in the making, and will lead to more certainty of delivery of water for agriculture and, in most cases, add to instream water flows for fish.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Reclamation is making great progress on its plan to remove Chiloquin Dam. We're helping work out a bit of a delay with getting a permit from the Union Pacific Railroad so that the material from the removal project can get across their tracks. As you may recall, one of the major reasons cited for the Endangered Species Act listing of the Sucker in Upper Klamath Lake was failed fish passage at Chiloquin Dam. I wrote and passed legislation that set up a framework to bring together the irrigation district, Klamath Tribes and the federal government to work out a local plan to solve this problem. Once they decided removal of the dam was the best option, I worked closely with the Bush Administration to get the necessary funding to complete the task. By the end of the summer, this dilapidated, century-old diversion will be history.
And speaking of doing good things for the environment, here's an interesting note turns out that the soaring cost of copper now means it costs 1.3 cents to make a penny and 7.7 cents to make a nickel. Minting new coins also requires huge amounts of energy and water. Meanwhile, the average household has about $90 in unused coins (that adds up to $10 billion nationwide.) If Americans just turned in 10 percent of those unused coins it would be the equivalent energy savings of 4.1 million 60-watt light bulbs, 82 million showers, or reduced carbon emissions equivalent to 12, 619 cars removed annually from the roads.
Not to mention you get the cash to save or spend.
My point is there are lots of things we can do that help the environment and reduce costs. I'll plan to share more of these ideas in future emails but now I have to go find my Mason jar of coins
The Price of Gasoline
Everywhere I go across Oregon, the message is the same: the price of fuel is killing us! And I couldn't agree more. Unlike past price escalations, this one doesn't seem to stop-- even with demand in the U.S. beginning to fall. With more than two-thirds of our oil and gasoline coming from imports, we've never been at more risk for this energy than today.
And yet, more than 75 percent of known oil and gas reserves within the United States are off limits because of federal laws. I still think we need to do more to develop new energy sources, including alternative fuels from cellulosic sources, such as woody biomass. Recently, the Department of Energy awarded a $24 million grant to fund research and development of cellulosic fuels to Pacific Ethanol in Boardman in Morrow County, making it one of about four facilities in the country to lead on this issue.
I've also supported the first congressionally mandated increase in fuel economy standards for vehicles in 32 years. The 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency will save billions for consumers in gasoline costs.
I've also backed incentives for purchase of hybrid vehicles (which I've switched to in Oregon and Washington, D.C.) as well as development of hydrogen powered cars and trucks.
Last week, I was invited to test drive a new Smart Car the tiny, two-seater. While it shifted a little rough, it does get good mileage and would be simple to park. But as I pointed out to the reporter who rode along, you sure couldn't pull a horse trailer with it or haul hay. The point is we need different vehicles for different purposes. And some in Congress have proposed huge tax increases to try to force consumers to buy small cars. I think that's a wrong-headed approach, and will continue to support positive incentives and investments in research and technology.
Prineville Teacher Named Country's Best
I forgot to mention that I drove the Smart Car last week from the Capitol to the White House where I had the great honor of joining the President and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who announced that Prineville seventh grade science teacher Mike Geisen is the country's "Teacher of the Year." The Rose Garden ceremony marked the first time since 1973 that an Oregonian has won the national honor. I had the chance to meet with Mike and his family in the West Wing of the White House before going out to the ceremony. (See photo here) The President remarked that as they left the Oval Office for the Rose Garden, Mike said to him, "I like what you've done with the place." This brought laughs from the crowd, and gave a glimpse of the humor and innovative teaching practices he uses to inspire children and why he was chosen as the country's best.
Seniors and the Stimulus Checks
In the last two months, I've met with seniors in Grants Pass, Medford, The Dalles, Hood River and Hermiston to get the word out that you have to file a tax return to qualify for a stimulus check which can amount to $300 per person. Many seniors' incomes are such that they've not had to file tax returns and they don't realize that without a tax return being filed, they won't get the stimulus check. With help from the IRS, I've been trying to get the word out. In southern Oregon a few weeks ago a senior told me she had not filed returns in more than 12 years, and until our town hall meeting, didn't know what to do.
In addition, scam artists are already at work calling seniors pretending to be IRS agents who "just need your Social Security number and bank account number to process your rebate." IT'S A SCAM! The IRS will NOT call. Do NOT give out your personal financial information over the phone. Scammers are also trying the same tactics with phony emails that appear to come from the IRS. Again, this is a scam.
For more information on how to file, click here.
Digital TV Transition Reminder
A reminder that analogy television goes away next year, and now's the time to start figuring out what to do. Here's some helpful information, and there's more detail via my website at www.walden.house.gov.
Manufacturers and broadcasters have public education campaigns underway to remind viewers who rely on an antenna and an analog TV set for reception that they have important choices to make:
1) Buy a new TV with built-in digital tuner;
2) Purchase an affordable digital TV converter box to receive over-the-air digital TV signals and convert them for analog TV viewing; or,
3) Subscribe to a pay TV service like cable or satellite.
The federal government has certified dozens of affordable converter boxes as eligible for $40 discount coupons, which are being distributed by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Digital TV sets are also now widely available for less than $200.
Viewers can obtain Florence Henderson's simple guide to the digital television transition, published by the Consumer Electronics Association, at www.DigitalTips.org or by writing to "Digital Tips," P.O. Box 73, Fanwood, NJ 07023. More information about CEA's ongoing "Convert Your Mom" digital television public education effort can be found online at www.DigitalTips.org. A comprehensive overview of the transition and information for consumers on how to be prepared is also available at www.DTVAnswers.com.
On the Trail
I've racked up a lot miles in recent weeks getting to meetings all across the district ranging from a small community affordable housing roundtable I organized with federal officials in Moro for Sherman, Gilliam, and Wheeler counties to participating in the dedication ceremony of the new Cayuse Technology center on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, to meetings in southern Oregon on alternative energy and conservation efforts. And my staff has attended numerous other meetings across our vast district, including a Sage Grouse field tour outside of Jordan Valley in Malheur County.
On May 12 I'll be in southern Oregon participating in a town hall dedicated to addressing the problems of methamphetamine. It's hosted by the A&E channel which has a nationally syndicated show called "Intervention." Hopefully, we'll get an opportunity to show communities around the country how successful our grassroots, collaborative efforts have been and give others ideas for how to shut down the drug culture in their communities.
That's it for now, as I must head to a meeting in with representatives of the Oregon Rural Electric Cooperatives who are in the nation's capital this week. Until the next newsletter, you can always reach me through my website or by contacting any of my offices in Oregon or Washington, D.C. If you would like to unsubscribe from this mailing, simply reply and type the word "unsubscribe" in the subject box.
Member of Congress