Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, held 20 town hall meetings in the first three months of 2019, visiting every county in Oregon’s Second Congressional District. He visited the Mt. Vernon Community Hall on July 2.
Walden updated voters on bills relating to forest management, stopping robocalls and addressing health care costs.
Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer thanked Walden for his support of new forest management legislation. Walden said he could use more help from Oregon’s U.S. senators and the governor to reduce forest fuels and air pollution caused by wildfires. The 68 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted in last year’s fires in California was equivalent to the amount emitted by electrical generators in the state for a whole year, he said.
The 2018 Farm Bill extended a 3,000-acre categorical exclusion for insect and disease treatment and created a 3,000-acre categorical exclusion for hazardous fuels reduction projects. This would allow smaller forest projects to proceed without the delays and paperwork associated with full National Environmental Policy Act review.
The Farm Bill also increased funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which funds stewardship projects on the Malheur National Forest. It also expanded the Good Neighbor Authority that allows the Forest Service to enter into forest stewardship agreements with states to allow similar agreements between the Forest Service and counties.
With Democrats in control of the House, Walden was less optimistic about passage of the proposed Resilient Federal Forest Act, which calls for expediting removal of burned dead trees and replanting after wildfires and removing the 21-inch rule that hampers commercial logging in Eastern Oregon.
The proposed act also clarifies that the 1937 O&C Act mandates a minimum annual timber harvest of 500 million board-feet in some Oregon counties and makes categorical exclusions provided in the 2018 Farm Bill available on all eligible Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands.
Wilderness and fires
Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer expressed his concern about difficulties search and rescue teams face in designated wilderness areas and wilderness study areas. Regulations protecting WSA also put a burden on local communities that rely on natural resource industries, he said.
Walden noted that while only 4% of Oregon is designated wilderness, wildfires that originated in wilderness accounted for about 32% of burned acres in the state. WSA protections are even more stringent than for wilderness and very difficult to remove once in place, he said.
He also responded to a comment by Scott McDonald about wasteful spending by the Forest Service. McDonald wanted to see fuel reduction and other preventive measures focused on lands near homes, critical infrastructure and national parks.
Walden agreed to keep an eye on how the Forest Service spent money received through a policy intended to protect forest health projects from “borrowing” during firefighting emergencies. He noted that smoke from recent wildfires near Portland might affect voters and help change wildfire policies.
An estimated 47.8 billion robocalls were placed in the U.S. last year, Walden said. About 12.8 million were made in the 541 area code in just the month of May this year, he said.
Robocallers are trying to steal your identity, Walden said. He’s traced calls to his cellphone back to Jamaica and Greece and played back a robocall he recorded from a person claiming to be Vice President Mike Pence calling from Air Force Two.
Walden said he supported passage of the 2018 Ray Baum’s Act, which provided the Federal Communications Commission with tools to better enable consumers and law enforcement to stay ahead of scammers, including calls from people outside the U.S.
Walden supports passage of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which requires implementation of call authentication technology so consumers can trust their caller ID at no cost of their own. The bill also includes provisions that would help carriers in rural America implement this new technology.
Walden joined Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, to introduce the No Surprises Act to protect patients from giant unexpected medical bills during an emergency room visit.
Up to one in five Americans are subject to these surprise bills, Walden said. He described the cases of a woman who was billed $17,000 for a lab test that should only have cost $100 and a family with an infant who had hemophilia receiving a $50,000 surprise bill.
The draft bill is modeled after an Oregon state law but applies to all health plans, including federal plans, Walden said. He also described three bills aimed at reducing drug costs by stopping pharmaceutical companies that tried to avoid competition.
The CREATES Act would force innovating drug companies to provide sufficient samples so other companies could produce competitive generic drugs. Other legislation would make it illegal for brand-name drug manufacturers to pay other drug manufacturers not to produce generic drugs. The Blocking Act is aimed at speeding up the introduction of generic drugs to the market.
First elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1988, Walden served in the house until 1995 when he was appointed to the Oregon State Senate to fill a vacancy. He served in the senate from January 1995 to January 1997 and was succeeded by Ted Ferrioli.
Walden was elected to the U.S. House in 1998 and has won 11 successive elections by significant majorities. He has served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.