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Public Statements

Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington DC



Mr. MERKLEY. Madam President, I thank my colleague from Colorado for his remarks about the production tax credit. This is incredibly important to the wind industry. It is a big factor in the economy of Colorado and certainly a substantial factor in the economy of Oregon. So I join him in making the case, if you will, that we need to make sure we continue to drive forward this clean energy manufacturing economy that produces zero carbon dioxide.

I can tell you, I recently had the chance to drive from the northern border of Oregon to the southern border in an electric Leaf. We have enough charging stations now along the interstate to make this possible. It was miraculous to not produce a single molecule of pollution out of that car trip.

If that energy for that car is coming from wind, then not any--zero--carbon dioxide is produced, a zero impact on global warming. So certainly what is very good for the American worker, for the American economy, is also good for our air and the environment here in our Nation and around the world. We must get this production tax credit passed. I will continue to work with him to make this happen.

I rise today to address a critical issue for Oregon's ranchers and farmers who are dealing with wildfire devastation--huge devastation. I am going to put up some pictures. We have had in the last month the largest fires in Oregon in over a century. An enormous amount of land has been burned in the process.

The Long Draw fire in Malheur County burned 557,000 acres or, to translate that, that is about 900 square miles. This is the largest wildfire in Oregon since the 1800s. This chart shows the incredibly powerful flames these ranchers and farmers have been dealing with. As these flames sweep across the grasslands, the cattle and other livestock are often killed in the process. The land does not quickly recover because of the intensity of the fire and how it affects the soil.

Let me give you another view of this same fire. This is actually a picture taken from Nevada looking toward Oregon. You see this massive wall, this massive wall of smoke coming across. It is an incredible sight to behold when a fire is in full rage as this was.

The Long Draw fire was one of the major fires, but the Miller Homestead fire was another. It burned about 250 square miles. Here again, you can see the dramatic flame front southeast Oregon was fighting. This is moving through the sagebrush, continuously progressing, moving very quickly when the wind is driving it, creating an enormous wall of smoke.

Let's take one more view. Here we see the aftermath of the fire when it was stopped by a road as an interlude. It completely destroyed land on one side of the highway, and what it looked like, this green grassland, this was not all dry and parched, this green grassland, before the fire moved through.

In addition to these two huge fires, we have had a number of others--the Lexfalls fire in Jefferson County; the Baker Canyon fire in Jefferson and Wasco Counties; the West Crater fire in Malheur County, each of these having a substantial impact in addition to the Miller Homestead and the Long Draw fires.

Together, these fires have consumed over 1,100 square miles. That is roughly an area the size of Rhode Island. So an entire State would fit into the area burned in Oregon. These fires are now under control, and southeastern Oregon is surveying the damage and picking up the pieces.

One of the things they would immediately turn to, our farmers and our ranchers, would be the disaster assistance that has always existed within the farm bill. But guess what. These disaster assistance programs are not available because the House has failed to act on the farm bill. This Senate passed the farm bill, a bipartisan bill, Republicans and Democrats coming together.

In it are the reauthorizations of four key programs. One of them is the Livestock Indemnity Program that addresses when there is a natural disaster like this, addresses the death and the loss of cattle and other livestock.

A second is the Emergency Assistance for Livestock Program called the ELAP. But it basically addresses the lost value of forage on private land, and then the LFP program, or Livestock Forage Disaster Program, that addresses the loss of forage on public land. Those of you who are not from the West may not be aware that a lot of our livestock is operating on land that is leased to our ranchers. So when a fire like this affects those public lands, it also is affecting the value of the lease to those farmers and the ability of their livestock--those that have survived the fire--to be able to find forage and continue to live.

It is deeply disturbing that the House has not voted on the farm bill and sent it to conference. I urge them to act on this quickly. Without these key disaster relief programs, ranchers and farmers who have lost livestock and grazing land are left with few options. That is wrong. A rancher in southeastern Oregon who has been devastated by these wildfires should not pay the price because the House of Representatives will not bring a farm bill that it can pass and send to conference.

Let's be clear. The best solution to this problem, as well as many other issues, would be for the House to pass the bipartisan Senate farm bill. This would bring timely relief to all of those who have suffered in the disaster, and certainly to the farmers and ranchers across Oregon who have been struck by the largest fire in this century, a fire larger than the State of Rhode Island.

But if we can get consensus to bring immediate relief in the face of the inaction by the House, then we should do so. That is why I have introduced the Wildfire and Drought Relief for Farmers and Ranchers Act to extend the most urgently needed programs immediately. This would extend the programs for livestock indemnity. This would extend the program for forage loss on public lands and forage loss on private lands.

I urge my colleagues to take the same bipartisan spirit they brought to the farm bill to recognize that this Chamber has already voted to extend disaster programs and, if necessary, move quickly to extend these disaster programs, if necessary by themselves, in order to help our ranchers, to help our farmers who have been affected by these natural disasters, including this once-in-a-century fire in the State of Oregon.

Again, I encourage the House of Representatives to immediately get the farm bill to conference. This should be done in the context of many programs that need to be renewed that have been worked out. But in absence of that, let's find a way to move quickly to assist our farmers and ranchers in the face of devastating natural disasters.

I yield the floor.


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