Ending alcohol shipping ban would help Oregon, Merkley says

LA GRANDE – U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said his home state would benefit from passage of the bipartisan bill to end the Prohibition-era ban that prevents the U.S. Postal Service from shipping alcoholic beverages to consumers.

Merkley addressed the issue Tuesday, May 18, in an interview with The Observer before his online town hall for Union County. He said the USPS Shipping Equity Act would benefit Oregon.

“It would help make our wine industry more vibrant,” he said.

The legislation would provide wine producers with another shipping option. Private shipping companies do no serve all rural areas of the United States, Merkley said in a press release.

Similar legislation was introduced in Congress about six years ago but was not enacted. Merkley said today’s legislation has a better chance of passage because wine production is increasing in a number of states.

Critics say the USPS Shipping Equity Act would boost underage drinking. Merkley stressed the legislation would require adults to sign for all shipments of alcohol the U.S. Postal Service delivers.

Merkley spoke in neutral terms about the proposal to remove four dams on the lower Snake River. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, has introduced the proposal to breach the dams by 2030 to improve salmon runs.

Merkley noted the dams deliver significant benefits in electricity, irrigation water and shipping opportunities.

“Changing all this would not be a small process,” said Merkley, who intends to take a deep look at the dam breaching legislation.

The senator also spoke about his new role as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Merkley is now the chair of the Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee, which funds the Department of the Interior. He said this gives him more influence in determining how much funding the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management receive. The senator said he is working to get additional funding to these agencies for forest thinning and the removal of shrubbery in forests to reduce their fuel loads. This will reduce the likelihood of more major regional wildfires in the future.

“I want to make our forests fire resistant,” Merkley said.

The senator said he would prefer spending money upfront to prevent fires rather than on the back end trying to extinguish them.