Global tensions, local impacts

As Russia and China explore a strong strategic alliance to challenge America’s global hegemony and the war in Ukraine stirs worries about a broader World War III conflict, lawmakers in Oregon and northern California are keeping a focus on trouble spots and the aftershocks of U.S. economic sanctions on Moscow.

Many of those impacts are being felt or are poised to be felt across the Pacific Northwest.

Republicans and some business groups continue to pressure the Biden administration to open up more domestic oil drilling and energy exploration. Gas prices average $4.72 per gallon in Oregon and $5.88 per gallon in California, according to AAA.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican representing the northernmost part of California, also voiced frustrations with the growth of Russian timber and lumber imports into the U.S.

Russia is one of the world’s largest lumber exporters with 22% of total market share and has 20% of the world’s standing forest, according to Forest Economic Advisors.

Increased materials prices stemming from current inflation as well as the Ukraine war could drive up costs even more for already strained construction, agriculture and manufacturing operations .

LaMalfa wants to boost U.S. lumber production – including in the region.

“Timber is one of our country’s greatest and most plentiful natural resources. Yet, year after year we see our forests burn, our towns destroyed, and the west choked with smoke. At the same time we do little to thin our overgrown forests, the United States has doubled its timber imports from Russia. The logic completely escapes me how anyone can think that cutting timber in Russia and shipping it to the United States is more environmentally friendly than thinning our own overgrown forests,” LaMalfa said in a statement.

Environmental groups want President Joe Biden to stick with their Green New Deal agenda promoting renewable energy and mitigations for climate change.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, for example, is pushing for more domestic production of minerals used in renewable energy (such as lithium) or technology products to reduce reliance on Russia, China and other adversarial countries. Russia is top exporter of many key minerals used in manufacturing.

Wyden said that offers opportunities for economic development in eastern Oregon.

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Oregon, is also part of a GOP effort to press Biden over the southern border arguing the reach of Mexican and other international drug cartels is felt in his southern district. Southern Oregon and northern California are both home to scores of illegal cannabis farms, some of which have links to international drug cartels from Russia and China, according to Bentz.

“The disastrous open border policies we’ve seen from President Biden have led to increased drug/illegal marijuana cartel activity in southern Oregon,” Bentz said.

He is a cosponsor of a GOP immigration bill that looks to restart construction of a border wall Mexico.

Biden stopped construction of the wall, a centerpiece of former President Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents had more than 1.73 million encounters with undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, smugglers and traffickers in 2021, a record level, and up from 458,000 encounters in 2020.

The border patrol has already had 838,685 encounters at the southern border during the 2022 reporting year, according to federal data.

Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, also want to keep a focus on Asian trouble spots along with sanctioning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

On the human rights front, Merkley backs a U.S. designation of Burma’s treatment of ethnic and mostly Muslim Rohingyas. The human rights issue has spillover into the U.S. relations with Beijing and efforts to pressure companies such as Oregon-based Nike who do business there over treatment of Muslim Uyghurs.

“I applaud the Biden administration for finally recognizing the atrocities committed against the Rohingya as genocide. While this determination is long overdue, it is nevertheless a powerful and critically important step in holding this brutal regime to account. Such processes must always be carried out objectively, consistently, and in a way that transcends geopolitical considerations,” Merkley said, referring to Biden administration’s March 22 designation.

Merkley has also been critical of China over the treatment of ethnic and mostly Muslim Uyghurs.

Congress passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act aimed at preventing U.S. businesses from being party to forced labor camps in China.

Wyden did delay passage of the China bill last year as part of a push to extend temporary child tax credits that were part of federal COVID relief. The bill eventually passed.

Additional U.S. sanctions against China (if they strengthen their support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine) could impact Nike, Apple and other companies with large Asian footprints.

Wyden has voiced criticism of Chinese censorship citing a U.S. report on firewalls, VPN blocking and other restrictions on speech and technology.The senior Oregon senator is also championing tax sanctions against U.S. companies who do business in Russia.

Wyden is chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee and wants to eliminate U.S. tax breaks for businesses or individuals doing business in Russia.

Merkley is also part of a U.S. effort petitioning the government of Thailand to do more about the refugee crisis in Burma. The Oregon senator is also part of an American lobbying effort in Thailand against potential restrictions against foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

“The conflict in Burma has resulted in 14.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance within Burma, many of whom are close to the border with Thailand in Kayah, Karen, and Shan States and whose access to such assistance is limited due to the ongoing violence and the military’s politicization of aid. Cross-border assistance provides a critical lifeline for these vulnerable populations and we urge your government to work with the international community to allow for its increased flow from Thailand into Burma, including in areas not controlled by the regime’s military,” Merkley and U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, wrote in a March 22 letter Thailand’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.