Last month, prior to the announced town hall in Hood River, we asked readers what they would ask U.S. Rep. Greg Walden if they were unable to attend the event. The questions dealt with a variety of concerns and ongoing issues.
We published the questions and passed them along to Walden to answer by Feb. 22. We publish his answers here, and continuing in the March 2 edition:
Have you made any progress in helping the Forest Service and BLM conduct timely salvage operations after forest fires? These dead and dying trees have little value after sitting in the woods for several years and only increase the intensity of future fires?
Has any part of the Resilient Federal Forests Act been approved by Congress and signed into law? This act would help the Forest Service and BLM manage their land in such a way as to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires in the future.
— Rick Larson
Rick — Thank you for your questions. Improving forest management on federal lands is a top priority for me in Congress. Sustainable forest practices are an important policy to reduce emissions, according to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We have a big opportunity to improve how we manage our forests before and after fires.
In the 2018 Farm Bill that passed the House of Representatives in the last Congress, I worked to include a provision that would allow professional forest managers to clean up the burned, dead timber where it makes sense after a fire and replant a new forest for the next generation. This is similar to what county, state, tribal and private foresters would do. Unfortunately, this provision was removed by the Senate and not included in the final bill that was signed into law. I’ll continue to work to make this commonsense change to federal forest policy.
The dead timber that builds up in our forests after a fire provides fuel for the next fire, increasing the size and intensity of wildfire. As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the last Congress, I held a hearing to examine the health and environmental impacts of wildfire smoke, and we discussed this very issue.
One of our witnesses, Oregon State Sen. Herman Baertschiger (who works in forestry and wildland firefighting), testified that fires that strike in areas where burned timber from previous fires is not removed inhibit the ability of forests to naturally recover. Moreover, science tells us that young, healthy forests sequester carbon while burnt trees after fires emit carbon.
These snags — dead trees also known as “widow makers” — pose a hazard to firefighters as well. Tragically, we lost a firefighter to one last year.
While we did not get that provision signed into law, I worked in the last Congress to pass into law the most significant reforms to forest management in more than a decade. We provided additional tools to more rapidly reduce the risk of wildfire. And rather than forcing the Forest Service to rob from fire prevention funds for firefighting, beginning next year, the government will finally pay for and treat wildfires as the natural disasters they are. This will help ensure we reduce hazardous fire fuels and can complete needed fire prevention projects.
While these reforms are important and needed, there is much more that needs to be done to improve forest management to reduce the risk of wildfire. I remain committed to this issue and appreciate your input on this important topic.
Forest fires, hydropower
Do you believe the major forest fires we have here in Oregon and across the west make the problem of climate change worse? I can’t imagine all the smoke we experience during the summers from wildfires is good for our health. How are you working to prevent wildfires from further polluting our climate?
Do you have any update on the round of negotiations over the Columbia River Treaty? The treaty is incredibly important to the Northwest and communities along the Columbia, and we should be doing everything in our power to make sure Oregon’s needs are met in this new treaty.
Can you tell us how you’re working to accomplish this?
— Doug Arnell
Doug — Thanks for your questions and input. You raise key points on both topics, equally important to our communities in Oregon.
First, on forest fires, I do believe that forest fires are a large contributing factor to climate change.
A study by the Forest Service on the 2015 fire season estimated the emissions from Oregon’s wildfires was the equivalent of the emissions from three million cars or three-and-a-half coal-fired plants run for a year. Likewise, the U.S. Geological Survey found the emissions from California’s wildfires in 2018 dumped 68 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to the emissions from generating electricity to power the state of California for one year.
Wildfire smoke also has a severe impact on our health. This comes as no surprise to Oregonians that choke on smoke every summer. Studies suggest that premature deaths from exposure to wildfire smoke could be as high as 25,000 per year. And we know here in Oregon that schools have closed, and events like Cycle Oregon and the outdoor Shakespeare Festival in Ashland have been canceled.
People are held hostage in their own homes in the summer because of wildfire smoke. Some with breathing disorders are hospitalized or have to leave the state.
Moreover, wildfires and the smoke that they produce hurt our economy. For example, an analysis of Oregon’s wildfire season in 2017 estimates that 600 jobs were cut from the leisure and hospitality businesses in central Oregon and southern Oregon due to the decline in tourism caused by active wildfires.
We can reduce the size and intensity of wildfire by improving the management of our forests. A Nature Conservancy and Forest Service study found that active management of fire fuels can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by up to 70 percent, and can reduce carbon emissions of wildfires by up to 85 percent.
I’m working in Congress to improve the health and management of our forests. Doing this will help protect our air sheds, watersheds, and the health of our communities in Oregon who are inundated with wildfire smoke each year.
Regarding the Columbia River Treaty with Canada, we have an opportunity in 2024 to update the treaty to the benefit of Oregonians. Under the current treaty, the U.S. compensates Canada for foregoing power generation to provide flood control downstream in the U.S.
The value of this benefit, currently provided by power deliveries from Bonneville Power Administration, is between $250 million to $350 million. Power users across the Northwest foot the bill. This sharing arrangement, however, is based on forecasts from decades ago.
A lot has changed in power generation in the region and it’s time to modernize this agreement.
That’s why I joined my colleagues in the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation last year in sending a letter to President Trump urging his administration to use all necessary measures to bring Canada to the negotiating table by 2024. I’ve raised the importance of modernizing the treaty with Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources as well.
There are benefits for both sides in taking a fresh look at this agreement and I was glad to see Canada come to the table last year. The fourth round of negotiations completed in December, and the next round is set for Feb. 27-28. As negotiations continue, I’m hopeful we can reach agreement on a deal that more accurately reflects the modern power landscape, and ensure Oregon power users are paying a fair price for the benefits they receive in power generation and flood control.
People say the tax cuts just benefited the rich, but is that true? How were tax cuts geared toward middle class people in Oregon? What benefits of tax reform have been passed down to everyday workers in Oregon?
— Keely Kopetz
Hi Keely — Thank you for your questions regarding tax reform. As you mentioned, there has been a concerted effort to mis-characterize the tax cuts legislation as only favoring the wealthy. But that is not the case.
Here in Oregon, the estimated average tax cut for individuals is $1,152, which represents an 11.9 percent decrease in the federal income tax. And a family of four making just over $70,000 — the median annual income for a family of four in our district — taking the standard deduction is estimated to cut their taxes by $1,985; that’s $15,880 over eight years.
According to a study last year, because of the tax cuts, Oregonians will receive a nearly $20,000 increase in take-home pay over 10 years. That’s money families can use to buy a car, stay up to date on their bill payments, or pay for college or student loans.
Businesses have also shared some of the benefits of tax reform with their employees. Shortly after tax reform was signed into law, hundreds of businesses announced they were giving their employees bonuses or pay raises. I met with the employees of the Home Depot in Redmond, who told me how important their bonus was to their daily budget.
I worked hard to make sure that tax reform was geared toward middle class families, small businesses, and our farmers and ranchers in Oregon. This bill not only made America more competitive by reducing the tax burden on businesses, it also gave relief to every day Oregonians by allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money.