“The president needs to work with Congress within the boundaries of the Constitution,” U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said in his March 15 town hall message, on one of the first political subjects he brought up: President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over border security funding.
Walden also mentioned a probable 20-year timeline on getting the Hood River Interstate Bridge replaced, and decried the current Trump administration’s proposal to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration.
Before taking questions in the town hall at Hood River Armory, attended by about 125 people, Walden gave a wide-ranging update on legislation and current issues gaining his attention.
Walden started by asking that the community hold Hood River’s Max Watson and his family “in our thoughts and prayers.” Watson, a friend of Walden’s son, has been missing in Mexico since November.
“Our office has reached to his family and offered every service we could, including Insitu equipment to assist in search-and-rescue,” he said.
Walden then turned to a variety of political and legislative topics.
Government shut down
Walden was one of 13 House Republicans who voted against the president’s national emergency declaration.
“I did not support the shutdown. I did not understand what Forest Service workers in Baker or LaGrande had to do with wall funding and the shutdown,” Walden said, to his first large applause moment.
“Make no mistake about it, I do strongly support border security and have for a very long time, in fact going back to the original (proposal) to build a border fence or border wall. In those days, it was bipartisan. In my view, there is much work to be done to protect and secure our border so I understand the president’s frustration at not being able to get the funds he seeks.
“I also objected to Obama and Bush executive orders as exceeding presidential authority. You want to follow the Constitution, you veto (legislation).”
“There is good and bad in it. Like most presidents’ budgets, they always want to sell off the BPA. If here is one thing that should unite the entire Northwest, it is opposition to that.”
Referring to Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s past agreement not to sell BPA, Walden said, “When it comes to committee, I expect that same commitment not to go down that path. It would be a great disruption for us. In the Northwest, we benefit greatly from low-cost hydropower through Bonneville.”
Also on the budget: A $5 billion cut to medical research. “I don’t think that’s going to survive either,” he said
“Locally, we had some good things done, working with Port of Cascade Locks to get the pedestrian lane on the Bridge of the Gods,” Walden said, noting that funding could be available through the bridge’s presence along the Pacific Crest Trail and within the National Scenic Area status.
He also described bridge redevelopment meetings with officials from the Port of Hood River. “Eventually the old Hood River Bridge is going to need to be replaced. They’re in the beginning process to be able to lay the framework.” He said, “It will probably 20 years before it gets done, but let’s get after it.”
With an estimated four million vehicle trips a year, he called it “a pretty big oil drip pan into the river.”
“While we have reduced emissions to levels not seen for many years back, I believe, to 1992, there is far more work to be done, humans contributed to this, science is pretty clear on this, I’ve written op-ed on this. And when I chaired the committee, we looked at a lot of these issues and we asked, ‘How can America lead in this effort like we did in developing energy around the world?’ A lot of the reason our emissions are down is we have switched from coal to natural gas.”
He acknowledge natural gas produces emissions but called it a “transition fuel.”
“The extent we can make natural gas available to the world is a better thing than having countries develop more coal energy, and that’s what we’re doing”
The Columbia River Treaty is up for renegotiation. “I worked closely with Obama, and now the Trump administration, to get this on track.” The treaty involves agreements on the flow of water and flood control in exchange for the U.S. paying Canada for lost power production.
“When the treaty was first negotiated in the 1960s, the estimates were different and rate payers today in the Northwest are subsidizing or are sending $350 million to Canadians in exchange for holding water back. I think both sides would admit that’s a lot more than today’s markets and needs are, and that is on the table to renegotiate and the State Department is engaged. That is a long-term effort.”
Walden said he supports a bipartisan Congressional review of streamlining the process for new modular nuclear power, quoting billionaire Bill Gates as saying, “Those who deny that (nuclear) as part of the solution are as bad as those who deny climate change itself.
“We need adequacy, resiliency and security of the power grid, and we can’t integrate all these new power sources if you don’t have a grid that can accommodate that, and we’ve made some changes. We looked at hydropower. We’re blessed in the west with the amount of hydropower we have. In Oregon, we still get coal, a little nuclear, but hydro is 40 percent of our power here in Hood River. We looked at how to streamline permitting for small-scale hydro. If you look at what the irrigation district does here, 2,000 homes supported by Farmers Irrigation District project.
“These are interesting technologies. I want to see America lead in innovation and let’s go sell it to the world,” Walden said.
“We need to change how we manage our forests and do more. We passed, as part of the Farm Bill, bipartisan legislation to allow for greater thinning and management.
“Our dry-side forests are overstocked, and with higher temperatures and drought and all the issues we know climate change portends, we’d better be more active at managing these forests.”
He said studies indicate that last year in the U.S., between 2,500 and 25,000 people died prematurely because of wildfire smoke. “These are emissions going into the atmosphere that hurt human health.”
Walden said 70,000 Americans died last year of opioid overdose, “more than died in auto accidents.
“We passed 60 bills last year covering treatment, interdiction, mental health services and best practices for prescribing. We will have funds to communities to help, we will see better practices. This has been a big effort to turn this around, because this is an addiction and very difficult to treat. This legislation will save lives.”