Sen. Ron Wyden tries new legislative route for stalled Oregon timber, Klamath Basin bills

Sen. Ron Wyden tries new legislative route for stalled Oregon timber, Klamath Basin bills
by Jeff Mapes
The Oregonian

July 31, 2014

Sen. Ron Wyden announced a new legislative gambit Thursday aimed at unsticking two key Oregon bills — dealing with timber levels in western Oregon and water issues in the Klamath Basin — that have languished in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, announced that he has introduced new versions of the two bills that he plans to move through the Senate Finance Committee, which he chairs.

Wyden has invested his growing clout in the Senate in making progress on two issues that have a long history of conflict in the state and have been especially closely watched in rural Oregon.

“Sen. Wyden is as committed as he’s ever been to moving these two bills forward,” said Wyden spokesman Keith Chu, adding that the senator will also continue his efforts to move the legislation through the energy committee.

Although both bills are controversial, that’s not all that’s been holding them up in the energy committee. When Wyden moved on from the chairmanship of that committee to take the finance gavel earlier this year, he turned leadership of energy over to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

She’s used the energy chairmanship as a forum to promote her ability to help the Louisiana oil and gas industry, but Republicans have increasingly sought to block action on the committee because they don’t want to give her any high-profile wins that could help her in her tough re-election race.

The forestry legislation deals with logging on more than 2 million acres in western Oregon once owned by the defunct Oregon & California Railroad. Officials in several rural communities and the industry have been pushing for higher timber levels, saying it is crucial to reviving the rural economy. Several environmental groups have opposed the bill, saying that larger harvests would reverse the environmental gains made in the O&C forests over the last two decades.

Chu said the new O&C bill headed to the finance committee includes proposed tax breaks for some private timberland owners, with the goal of equalizing tax treatment for different types of ownership. The bill also calls for a study of the economic impact of log exports, he said.

The Klamath Basin bill — co-sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer — would ratify a pact aimed at resolving water rights issues in the upper basin. Wyden also released the text of the new Klamath bill.

That agreement has faced criticism from both environmentalists and from some conservatives. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who represents the area, has also expressed reservations about the pact.

Chu, Wyden’s spokesman, said the senator hopes he can make progress on the two bills once the Senate returns from its August recess.

“He wants to do it as soon as possible,” said Chu, “so it would certainly be his hope to get them through as soon as he can.”