By John L. Braese
ONTARIO – Appearing before a standing-room-only crowd, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden announced House passage of a bill that includes a provision barring any federal spending to explore a Canyonlands designation.
“The bill passed 225 to 202,” Walden told some 40 constituents at an early-morning town hall meeting Saturday, July 16. “The Interior Department cannot use any funds to move forward on the Canyonlands.”
The ban was part of an appropriations bill that also included cuts to other agencies, Walden noted. He said it slashed 21 percent from regulatory programs, cutting $146 million from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There is also language in the bill that continues to prohibit the listing of the sage grouse,” said Walden.
The Oregon Republican also said the county will continue to receive funding from the federal government for payments in lieu of taxes.
In addition he touted legislation to fully fund wildfire fighting on BLM lands. He said the House also will look at clarifying the language regarding fires spreading from private to public lands, an issue that arose in response to the Hammond family and their ranch in Harney County. The father and son were convicted of arson after fires, which they said were set to quell fire risk, spread across public lands. Both are serving time in federal prison under an expansive federal law aimed at curbing terrorism.
“We need to bring some clarity to this law,” Walden said. “This goes both ways as we have found cases where the government set fires to reduce fire danger that crossed onto private lands. They did not go to federal prison.”
In a question-and-answer period, Walden was asked about Sen. Ron Wyden’s proposed legislation to bar mining in the Owyhee Canyonlands area.
“I am opposed,” Walden said of the Oregon Democrat’s bill. “I really don’t know what the threat is. This is just another sleight of hand, a hand fake that is not needed.”
State Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, asked Walden about the possibility of federal funding toward a transportation hub in the county area.
With the shutdown of ports in Portland, local crops such as onions are now shipped to Washington to be placed on ships. A plan is currently being worked on to place a rail hub in the area.
“We have to maintain our ability to get products to market,” said Walden.
Asked about the wild horse program administered by the Bureau of Land Management, Walden bluntly described the issue to the crowd.
“Real honestly, we don’t have the votes in the House to make any changes to the program,” Walden said.
Walden weighed in on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a running mate.
Walden said he worked with Pence in the past and was impressed with his accomplishments.
“I like him,” said Walden referring to Pence. “I think Trump’ s pick of him fills a certain void.”
Looking to November, Walden sees good things ahead for the Republican Party.
“I think we can hold the House,” Walden said. “The most recent polls I have seen show the Republicans will hold the Senate also.”
Walden wrapped up the meeting with his emphasis on public agencies.
“We need to continue to rein in public agencies and the impact they have on our life,” said Walden.