Senator focuses on offshore drilling, environment

“Just say No!”

That is what Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon has fired back at members of the current administration along with his colleagues in the U.S. Senate over plans to allow drilling off the Oregon coast – and most of the United States.

That is also his message to the people of his state.

The recent announcement to open up the Oregon coast to oil exploration is just the latest attack on the people living in the Pacific Northwest by politicians and the people who backed them financially.

It will not be the last, he said.

Merkley made some pointed comments about the state of politics in the nation’s capital while holding a town hall in Rockaway Beach Tuesday.

It has been going on for a while, but has gotten bad after the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

“This led to something exceptional in 2016. which should be written very clearly about in every history book.  For the first time in our history, when a Supreme Court seat became vacant, the majority of the senate stood up, the majority leader said ‘There would be no debate. No vote on the president’s nominee. This wasn’t after the nominee came out. This was before hand.

“(Sen.) Mitch McConnell said ‘it’s an election year. I am going to protect the elections.  It is a tradition not to have a Supreme Court debate in an election year.’

“Absolutely untrue.

“Fifteen times in our history we had a vacancy in an election year. Fifteen times we have had a debate and a vote. He wasn’t always confirmed. Four times out of that 15 the senate voted against confirmation.

“But, they always voted,” the senator said.

“This happened because the Koch brothers have become the puppet masters of the senate. They were afraid that a judge, nominated by President Obama, no matter who it was, would get confirmed and would reverse Citizens United on behalf of the real vision of the Constitution of power exercised by the people, rather than by or for the powerful.”

The senator said that is why there is a push to open up offshore drilling throughout the United States. “The Koch brothers are in charge of our Congress right now.”

The senator said he put forward a bill in 2016 called ‘Keep it in the ground.’

“The bill said that we as citizens all own a lot of oil, coal and gas. Have you ever woken up and said … ‘I’m a fossil fuel baron. Look at all this gas and coal I own,’” he said with a smile.

“But you could, because collectively we own a massive amount. If we are still in poverty by doing contracts to take that out of the ground and have it burned, then how can we ask the rest of the world to work with us to stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels that is wrecking our planet,” he said.

The bill would have said no to government contracts for our citizen-owned assets.

“What has (Secretary of the Interior Ryan) Zinke turned around and done? He said let’s take every bit of possibility for a government contract and do it right now,” he said, adding it is like giving away control of all the government assets.

“He did just say he wants to put out leases for 10 percent of the Continental Shelf for offshore drilling. It is 90 percent.

“In other words, it lease it all out now so that it will be out of the control of our (the people’s) hands to be able to stop the exploitation,” he said.

“I am very concerned about it,” the senator said.

Oregon can only control its coast for several miles out from the shore. The federal government can go out 200 miles.

“It is the federally–controlled area where Zinke wants to issue all the leases,” he explained.

The environment is under attack on many fronts now, according to the senator.

“This is really a serious threat to human civilization. The folks who are trying to … make more money off fossil fuels – the Koch brothers cartel, they are completely egregiously corrupting the fundamental premise of our democracy, which is ‘We the People.’

“I hope ‘We the People’ can win out over the few and the powerful and save our nation,” he said.

The impact on the environment is observable in many places, noting the change in acidity of oceans, the effect of climate change on forests and their susceptibility to forest fires is just part of it.

Nancy Webster of the Rockaway Beach Citizens for Watershed Protection also asked the senator questions on how they can help protect the air and water in their communities.

“We started out as a small citizens group. We realized that our watershed in 2003 was barely logged. By 2013, it had been 83 percent logged, she said.

There also has been a water quality problem. “We have more trihalomethane violations than anywhere on the coast. That is a carcinogenic,” she said.

Aerial spraying of herbicides also has become a problem in the community, she added.

In the neighboring community of Tillamook, a mill near downtown has permission to release chromium,” Webster claimed.

“We are at kind of a loss at what to do (about the environmental problems).

“Are there still federal regulations for clean air and water – and are they enforceable,” she said. “Maybe it’s a joke with this current (political) climate, but we need help.”

According to the senator, the logging problems would be covered by the state’s Forest Practices Act.

“You are absolutely right to take it up on the state level,” he said.

When it came to federal agencies and officials caring about clean air and clean water, he was decidedly more pessimistic.

“You asked about the EPA and whether it still cares about clean air and clean water … well, not so much.

“Basically, Scott Pruitt (the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator) is undoing everything he could possibly undo,” the senator said. “The EPA is completely out of action for right now.

“Clean air and clean water is pretty important to Americans,” he said, pointing out other areas that do not have it like New Delhi and Beijing. “In Beijing, you can not see a hundred yards and people’s lives are shortened by decades.”