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 Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection


Dear fellow Oregonian,

The end of a busy summer of work both in the nation’s capital and throughout central, southern and eastern Oregon is approaching, but I’m still packing in many public meetings before the district work period ends and Congress reconvenes next week—in fact right now I’m in the middle of a seven-day swing covering 1,831 miles to attend 30 meetings and public events.

I held a televised town hall in central Oregon on Friday hosted by BendBroadband’s “Talk of the Town.” As with so many other town meetings, this one drew a capacity crowd, and we had a real good and productive community discussion largely focused on the health of our federal forests and the bipartisan desire to once again do environmentally responsible work in the woods.

It will air beginning Monday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. on BendBroadband’s COTV channel 11 and each Monday at 7 p.m. through the month of September. Once it airs on Sept. 7, it will also be available on COTV On Demand.

At a time of fierce partisanship in Congress, several of us who care deeply about America's forests and the people and communities near them have gotten together to form a bipartisan caucus to work on public policy improvements to reduce wildfires and create renewable resource jobs.

The fire outside Mosier and the blazes in southern California’s national forests are a reminder to the rest of the country of the disruptive and dangerous power of catastrophic wildfire—and that our federal forests are dangerously out of balance with nature.

Those who live in rural America know this all too well.

Because of this, I and three of my Democratic colleagues — Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) — have agreed on a set of principles to expand the very bipartisan and successful Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), signed into law in 2003.

HFRA was supported by wide bipartisan margins in both the House and Senate, including garnering the support of Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden and Reps. Peter DeFazio, David Wu, and Darlene Hooley.

Without waiving any existing environmental laws, HFRA streamlined burdensome federal regulations to cut through red tape and frivolous lawsuits to allow management of overgrown federal forests. Where implemented in the areas immediately surrounding rural forested communities, it has succeeded in helping curb catastrophic wildfire and improve forest health.

But since HFRA took effect in 2003, over 40 million acres have burned in the United States, an area larger than North Dakota. A recent study from the Western Institute for Study of the Environment found that, to offset to greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires in California from 2001 to 2007, you’d have to lock up all 14 million of the state’s cars for 3.5 years.

Federal scientists and foresters have asked to be able to use the bipartisan HFRA tools in the areas away from communities where forest health is assessed as poor and catastrophic fires begin.

So, again without waiving any environmental laws, our new bipartisan proposal would give federal scientists and foresters the tools to manage our forests to reduce catastrophic fire from choked, diseased, and beetle-infested forests.

The debris we would take out of the forest is small stuff – check out the piece of debris I’m holding in my left hand in this photo. Once fuel like that is taken out of the forests, it’s usually just piled up and burned.

What our bipartisan proposal would do is help encourage the emergence of the renewable biomass energy industry. The stuff in the photo above could be turned into energy, like this biomass brick I’m holding in this photo.

The potential for new jobs is really exciting. Yesterday morning I toured a potential new biomass site in Josephine County. But a glitch in federal law puts this new industry at a disadvantage when competing for critical private investments and holding its rightful place in America’s smarter energy future.

Our bipartisan proposal would give renewable biomass energy the same incentives available to other renewable energy technologies, and put rural Oregon on an equal playing field with the rest of the country when it comes to attracting the clean energy jobs that will play such an important role in America’s smarter energy future.

We would also help jumpstart the industry by encouraging schools, hospitals, and Forest Service and BLM offices to switch over to biomass energy sources. As The Bulletin reported, Harney District Hospital in Burns “opted for a pellet heating system for the new hospital, which opened in 2007. Hot water and heating for the 55,000-square-foot facility costs $10,000 a year…a savings of $60,000 to $100,000 relative to natural gas or heating oil.”

I’ll keep you posted as the process moves forward. The bipartisan team plans to introduce the legislation this month, since Congress reconvenes on September 8.

Until then, I’ll be busy with public meetings and events in Josephine, Jackson, Klamath, and Lake counties for the rest of the week, talking healthcare, forest health, and ways to stimulate local economies back into job production.

Then it’ll be time to start my 377th round trip between Oregon and the nation’s capital.

That’s all for now. Remember to join me on YouTube, friend me on Facebook, or track me on Twitter if you have not already done so.

And if you’d like to unsubscribe from this mailing, simply reply and write “unsubscribe” in the subject line.

Best regards,
Greg Walden

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              Page Updated: Thursday September 03, 2009 02:27 AM  Pacific

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