COOS BAY — Community members from around the South Coast gathered at Marshfield High School on Saturday for a town hall meeting with U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to discuss the issues that matter the most to them.
The meeting in Coos Bay, which was moderated by Senator Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay), marked Wyden’s 939th town hall since being elected in 1996. Attendees who participated Saturday asked Wyden a range of questions on topics from local environmental concerns to issues with transportation.
Among the most repeated topics involved the much-debated Jordan Cove Project and its impacts to the county. A couple of community members questioned Wyden’s stance of the project with one attendee commenting he thought the senator held a bias toward halting plans to construct the 229-mile pipeline.
“I’m keeping my promise to Oregonians no one is going to cut any corners and no one is going to trample on our rights,” said Wyden. “Whether at the end of your day your point of view prevails I want to make sure everyone thinks they’ve been treated fairly.”
In 2017, Wyden along with Senator Jeff Merkley sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging his administration to refrain from interfering with the Jordan Cove permitting process as reports came out that the project’s approval was a top priority.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a bipartisan, independent agency, is tasked with reviewing and permitting LNG terminals such as Jordan Cove. Wyden stressed adhering to the law and allowing the processes that have been set in place to play themselves out.
“We’re going to do this book by book,” he said. “I’m going to watch (the project) like a hawk.”
A few questions regarding the environment were also raised at Saturday’s town hall. As ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden along with other colleagues recently introduce a bill aimed at promoting clean energy.
Wyden discussed condensing the current federal energy tax code, which consists of 44 tax breaks, to three tax incentives for those who practiced clean energy, clean transportation fuel and energy efficiency.
“We’ll get more green in the environment for less green out of your wallets and more jobs,” said Wyden.
Throughout the meeting, concerns over the area’s local economy were talked about with issues being raised over transportation, infrastructure, international trade and long term job creation.
For the South Coast, Wyden talked about the multitude of factors involved with rural communities and the challenges associated with strengthening their economy.
“I am told constantly the big challenge is transportation,” said Wyden. “How do you get to the coast? How do you move goods and services around?”
Investing in infrastructure is the key to creating more opportunities on the coast, he added. With a recent infrastructure meeting at the White House being cut short last week the opportunity to discuss a bipartisan spending plan was derailed and missed, Wyden said.
Congressman Peter DeFazio, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, joined Wyden last Wednesday in sitting in on that scheduled meeting to discuss nationwide infrastructure spending.
“We were there to work in good faith…to pay for infrastructure: roads, bridges, and transportation systems,” said Wyden. “I’m going to do everything I can to get it back on track.”
Other topics discussed included rural health care, wildfires and rising pharmaceutical costs. Wyden told attendees, as a ranking member with the Senate Finance Committee that he along with chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) were working on a bill that would end pharmaceutical price gouging.
As the town hall began wrapping up, a final question was asked by a community member wanting to know what Wyden would do to prevent a war with Iran and Venezuela as Trump has announced additional troops to be sent out to the Middle East.
“Before I left Washington I signed on as a co-sponsor to legislation opposing an unauthorized war in both Iran and Venezuela,” said Wyden. “The issue is not in my view about winning it’s about how we get out and getting out is a lot harder than getting in as people have seen in Iraq.”
Wyden also serves as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence where he said he still has questions as to what has led to the rising tensions.
“I hope this Memorial Day the message from Oregon will be that we are going to be opposed to rash and precipitous military involvement in areas where not only has it not been authorized, (but) where there’s even questions about what the issues are,” said Wyden.