Sen. Merkley discusses new initiatives for rural communities

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley announced provisions in bills coming out of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development that will impact Oregon and its rural communities Thursday and briefed Oregon media outlets on local affects.

Merkley expects several of the bills to make it through the Senate floor after they were voted out of the committee on Wednesday unanimously. One place he said he doesn’t see any bills making headway in the Senate soon, though, is in defense while Republicans continue to pull money to fund a border wall.

“We have had five of the appropriations subcommittee’s bills go through the full committee, that means they’re headed to the floor,” he said. “We anticipate that it’s very likely that the four very bi-partisan bills, which are EW, that is energy and water, ag, transportation and HUD [Housing and Urban Development] and financial services, very good chance those will go through the floor and into conference quite quickly. There is still a big battle going on over funds that were moved from a variety of other accounts into homeland security for the wall. That is really kind of messing up the bipartisan collegiality on a number of the bills.”

Thanksgiving deadline

Merkley hopes some will make it through the Senate floor before the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 but foresees a Thanksgiving deadline for those that don’t.

The senator commented that with all of the turnover in the Trump administration, he will have to get used to backing his bills in the Senate again.

“It will feel strange to be doing legislation on the floor because the majority leader has essentially been running only nominations through the floor, executive nominations and of course judicial nominations, so looking forward to that.”

One thing Merkley highlighted from the defense bill coming out of the committee is increased funding to train the national guard to fight wildfires.

“Oregon will get a fair share for our national guard to be trained for the fires in our state,” he said. “That’s very important and valuable contribution to our ability to take on fires next summer in 2020.”

Hemp industry

He also noted funding to continue progress related to industrial hemp production. According to Merkley, after the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp an agricultural product that states could opt into, this year the committee funded $16.5 million to implement some of the provisions in the 2018 bill, along with $2.5 million for hemp innovation research.

“This year, in Oregon, it’s currently estimated it might be a billion dollar crop because of the value of the CBD oil,” Merkley said. “That would be an extraordinary flow of additional revenue into our agricultural communities.”

The committee’s bill also includes $2 million for research toward regulating CBD.

Endangered species

The bill also includes money for water conservation and habitat restoration, some of which could make its way to Klamath.

“This fund may also come in very helpful with some of the challenges we face in the Klamath Basin, where there are a variety of endangered challenges, including the two types of sucker in Klamath Lake.”

Merkley also applauded Oregon Tech’s sucker research and innovation in the form of solar panel rafts with oxygen pumps students sent onto Upper Klamath Lake earlier in the year.

“Anything I can do to help provide grant funding for those types of projects, I’m going to work to do it.”

Now that these initiatives have made it through the Appropriations subcommittee, they must pass the Senate, which could be sooner rather than later.

“I do not expect defense to be brought up on the floor because of the big disputes involving that, but hopefully we’ll see energy and water, ag, transportation, financial transactions on the floor very soon.”

Merkley closed by saying what it means to him to be able to give Oregon a voice in national spending by joining the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee in 2013.

“I’m pleased that I made the request at the right moment because it gives me a front row seat to advocate for Oregon in all kinds of ways.”