Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today announced key provisions in the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations committee bill that will help Oregon communities. The bill was voted out of committee on Thursday.
“Fighting for Oregon’s priorities is my top responsibility as a member of the Appropriations Committee, and this bill contains provisions that will help communities across Oregon,” Merkley said. “From funding salmon management and recovery programs, to advancing marine science research, to protecting our coast, this bill delivers for Oregon.”
Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.
Key elements of the legislation that will impact Oregon include:
Salmon Management: The bill provides $2 million increases to both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration salmon management activities on the West Coast and Alaska and to Pacific Salmon Treaty implementation. The increase to $36 million in salmon management activities funds the operation and maintenance of the Mitchell Act hatcheries that produce nearly half the salmon and steelhead released into the Columbia River each year; the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the Chinook Salmon Agreement; and ongoing work to establish a genetic stock identification database. Merkley also successfully requested report language providing $14 million to enable states and tribes to implement Pacific Salmon Treaty agreements.
Salmon Recovery: The bill preserves $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, a competitive grant program designed to address declining Pacific salmon and steelhead populations by supporting conservation efforts in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska. The Trump budget would have eliminated the program. Since 2000, the program has funded $2.4 billion in projects — including $1.1 billion in awards and $1.3 billion in state and other matching funds — that have helped prevent the extinction of the 28 listed salmon and steelhead species on the West Coast.
Emergency Assistance: Merkley led a bipartisan effort along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to provide $150 million in emergency funding for fisheries disasters in 2017. Merkley was able to get assurances that the Appropriations Committee will work to include fishery disasters in any appropriations bill that provides supplemental emergency funding for disasters. This is a critical step for southern Oregon fisheries that are facing massive closures, from Florence to the California border, this fishing season.
Sea Grant Program: The program, targeted for elimination in the Trump budget, received a $2 million increase after Merkley led a bipartisan resolution in support of the investment. Funded at $65 million, the program, a priority for Oregon State University, uses targeted local investments to create economic growth, sustainable fisheries, and resilient coastal communities.
Coastal Zone Management: The bill preserves $85 million for the National Coastal Zone Management Program, which works with Oregon and other coastal states to address some of today’s most pressing coastal issues — climate change, ocean planning, and planning for energy facilities and development. These grants help protect natural resources, improve public access, facilitate coordination between state and federal authorities, and manage hazardous areas.
Research Vessels: The bill preserves $121.88 million for the National Science Foundation Regional Class Research Vessel Program, which is advancing coastal science with the next generation of ships that have more modern technology and abilities than previous generations. The vessels are being developed by Oregon State University and will greatly bolster the U.S. marine science research capacity for the next 40 years.
Economic Development Administration: The bill preserves $254 million for the agency, which was zeroed out in the Trump budget. The agency leverages existing regional assets to support economic development in rural communities. Merkley led a bipartisan effort to maintain the agency’s funding, including $100 million for public works grants and $21 million for the regional innovation program.
Industrial Hemp: Merkley led and won an amendment to the bill that allows farmers to grow industrial hemp in any of the 32 states where it is legal. His amendment includes language to prohibit unnecessary interference by the federal government with a state’s implementation of its own laws that authorize the cultivation, growth, processing, manufacturing, use, possession, distribution, marketing, or transportation of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is used to make everything from rope and cloth to oil and soap. Hemp products account for over $600 million in annual domestic sales, and while hemp has the potential to be a multi-billion dollar domestic crop, we instead have to import all of our hemp from nations ranging from Canada to China. Oregon is one of the states that has enacted laws allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp.
The next steps would be for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor for a full Senate vote, and eventually to be merged with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.