When asked whether the U.S. Senate would support a proposal passed in the House of Representatives to prevent funding to create a national monument in Malheur County, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, instead touted a bill he introduced that would not prevent a monument.
Speaking July 20 in Grant County at his 778th town hall meeting since taking office, the senator said his bill, co-sponsored by fellow Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, responded to concerns raised by residents in more than 50 meetings with Wyden’s staff.
Wyden said residents were opposed to a proposed 2.5 million-acre national monument that would cover 40 percent of Malheur County. He said they were also concerned about foreign mining in the area and wanted to strengthen the ranching economy and preserve the ranching way of life.
“I have pointed out to the (President Barack Obama) administration very clearly that there is very strong opposition in Eastern Oregon to a monument on the Owyhee,” he said. “And so I’ve actually introduced a piece of legislation that I think responds to what I’ve heard in Eastern Oregon.”
Wyden introduced the Southeastern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal and Economic Preservation and Development Act June 10, and it was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, addressed these concerns.
“The bulk of the bill is about strengthening the ranching economy and the ranching way of life,” he said. “This, of course, No. 2, is not a monument; this would be a piece of legislation, so it would have to be considered by the Senate, it would have to be considered by the House. Third, because there’s been big concern about foreign mining interest, tapping the minerals, we have a mineral withdrawal.”
Instead of creating a national monument through a presidential proclamation, he said his bill would have to be approved by Congress, though it would not prevent the president from proclaiming a monument.
The bill would prevent any new mining activities in the 2,065,000-acre withdrawal area it would cover. The bill also contains provisions creating grant programs for water improvements, infrastructure and firefighting, an Agriculture Center of Excellence in Malheur County and a study for rural air services at the airport in Ontario.
Responding to other questions at the town hall:
• Wyden said he supports “common sense steps” to reduce gun violence that do not violate the Second Amendment. He said terrorists and people with domestic violence convictions should be prevented from owning guns but that the government should be liable for penalties if it prevents someone from purchasing a gun who should not have been. He also said limits on research into gun violence should be lifted.
• He said a conference committee between the House and Senate would be meeting in September to work on legislation that could end “fire borrowing,” where agencies are forced to use funds intended for fire prevention to cover the cost of fighting fires.
• Wyden said infrastructure would be his first priority in January, and he hopes to find funding through tax reform.
• He said he would not support term limits for Congress.
• He said he believed pharmacists should play a larger role in rural health care.
• When asked if he support Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Wyden said he does not make endorsements at town halls.