Friday, June 16, 2023

By:  Molly O’Brien

Herald and News

Klamath County residents turned out in force for a chance to talk to and hear from a U.S. senator this week.

On Friday, June 16, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) hosted his annual Town Hall for Klamath County, held at Oregon Tech. Every year, Merkley visits all 36 counties in Oregon.

Applauded for his commitment to rural communities like those in Klamath Basin, Merkley welcomed the input of his constituents, responding to pressing concerns presented by residents.

During a media conference prior to the Town Hall, Merkley told the Herald & News about some of the items at the top of his list for Klamath County and rural Oregon.

The senator also remarked upon the upcoming change over from the F-15 to the F-35 fighter jets for Kingsley Airbase, pointing out the positive economic impacts of the switch.

Among his recent efforts, Merkley noted the $162 million attained for the sake of improving water quality in Klamath County lakes.

“If the lake is in better shape, it makes it easier to share water for irrigation,” Merkley said. “The amount of money we’re investing in the Koptu and C’waam fish. If they’re better off, we can do a lot more.”

Merkley said the decreased availability of water is an unfortunate but unavoidable circumstance.

“The reality is that this year’s been a good year – but they’re not all good years,” he said. “I’m just going to keep trying to get as much financial support for the basin as possible as we adjust to the new reality of less rainfall and ss snowpack on average.”

During the Town Hall, community members also brought up the topic of the changing climate.

Wendy Williams wanted to know if President Joe Biden had any intention of declaring climate change a national emergency.

Merkley assured Williams he is putting the pressure on the Biden campaign to take the issue seriously and act immediately.

 Carl Andrews asked about the proposition to build a new solar panel facility 25 miles east of Klamath Falls.

“What do you think about that, and why is it important in Klamath County?” Andrews asked.

“We are seeing a huge impact of carbon accumulating in the atmosphere,” Merkley said. “It’s produced our fire season. It’s produced more drought, less snowpack, smaller warmer trout and salmon streams.”

Merkley said the rate of carbon introduced into the atmosphere has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

“I’d like to say we’ve turned the corner, but we haven’t,” Merkley said. “We’re being hit in forestry, farming and fishing, the three pillars of rural economy. We have to pivot fast from carbon based to renewable energy.”

The topic of Supreme Court accountability also made its way to the floor, eliciting strong disapproval from the senator.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made recent headlines when ProPublica unveiled secret luxury trips gifted to him by billionaire real estate developer Harlan Crow for the past 20 years.

“In a republic, we depend on the integrity of the ballot box,” Merkley said. “But the structure is rigged for the powerful. It supports partisan warfare, and it supports paralysis. We have got to reform the senate.”

When students from Oregon Tech were invited to ask the senator questions some asked about efforts to increase federal funding for post-secondary education.

Merkley acknowledged the financial struggle to afford higher education felt by many families across the country.

“Students in other countries like Germany don’t have to worry about taking on $80,000 in debt,” Merkley said. “I’ve heard from parents who aren’t sure they should encourage their children to go to college. But I believe that the success of nations around the world in this century is going to depend on our investment in infrastructure and education,” Merkley said.

Merkley also congratulated Klamath Community College for creating a commercial drivers licensing program, funded by a federal grant of $200,000.