While Oregon's freshman Republican congressman, Rep. Cliff Bentz, has only been in office for less than two months, he will serve as the GOP's ranking member of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, party leaders announced Wednesday.
The subcommittee oversees federal agencies in charge of managing water resources for irrigation, hydroelectricity, navigation and conservation — including the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In a statement, Bentz said he will provide a "thoughtful check and balance to the Biden Administration and the Democrat majority in Congress," pushing back against burdensome regulations that have hindered farms and rural communities across the West.
"For more than half of my professional and political career I have stood up and fought for agriculture and communities that rely on our water resources and are feeling the effects of a real and regulatory drought," Bentz said.
Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said that while Bentz may be new to Congress, his experiences as an attorney specializing in water law have equipped him to be a strong voice on water issues.
"As we begin this new Congress," Westerman said, "I believe we have the best possible team ready to take on any challenge and show Americans that conservation is inherently conservative."
Bentz was elected to the House in November, replacing Rep. Greg Walden, who retired after 22 years in office. As Oregon's only congressional Republican, Bentz represents District 2, covering the majority of the eastern, central and southern portions of the state.
During his 43 years as an attorney in Ontario, Bentz said he represented numerous farmers, ranchers and small businesses that depend on a thriving agricultural economy.
"I understand their problems," he said. "They will have someone at the table to fight for what they need, if they are going to survive as families and communities."
Specifically, Bentz said the committee may be able to help fund additional water storage projects to provide greater certainty for farms feeling the effects of drought, while "hopefully not putting senseless regulations back in place."
"There are lots of Clean Water Act and ESA (regulations) that can be brought into play," he said. "To the extent that they are, it generally plays out badly for farmers."
When asked about Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's proposal to breach four dams along the lower Snake River as part of a plan to save endangered salmon runs, Bentz said he is generally opposed to removing dams, but looks forward to listening to communities and businesses that would be affected.
"Dam removal, it's community-changing, and many would say community-destructive," Bentz said. "I'm anxious to listen to what the people who would be most impacted want."
Agricultural groups in Oregon largely praised Bentz's appointment to the water subcommittee.
Barb Iverson, president of the Oregon Farm Bureau, said Bentz brings extensive expertise on water issues to the national level.
"We look forward to working with Congressman Bentz on federal policy work because we know he will never forget the interests of Oregon's agriculture community in discussions and decisions around water needs, uses, and conservation," Iverson said.
April Snell, executive director of the Oregon Water Resources Congress, which represents irrigation districts and other agricultural water suppliers across the state, said the committee will benefit from Bentz and his knowledge of western water law.
"Through his many years in the Oregon Legislature, Congressman Bentz knows first-hand the importance of bridging the urban-rural divide and supporting common-sense solutions regardless of party," Snell said. "His thoughtful and deliberative approach to complex policy is needed now more than ever and we are grateful to have him in Congress working on Oregon’s behalf."