Jeff Merkley

Sen. Jeff Merkley answers questions during a town hall in Bandon in 2019.

 

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley recently announced he has used his seat as chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to secure vital investments in the annual spending bill for the subcommittee that will help make Oregon’s forests more resilient, support rural communities, protect public lands, bolster important programs for tribes and more. The bill is the basis for negotiations with the House, as Congress works to fund the government for fiscal year 2022.

“For too long, programs protecting public lands, public health, and the environment and supporting tribal communities have been operating on fumes—as Oregonians know that all too well,” Merkley said. “I took the role of Chair on this subcommittee to make sure communities here in Oregon had the resources they need for the priorities most important to folks across the state, and this bill does just that. It makes unprecedented investments to address climate chaos, respond to and prevent climate-driven wildfires, protect natural places and wildlife, restore the rightful place of science, and rebuild capacity at federal agencies. The bill also makes transformative change in Indian Country by boosting funding for tribal health care by a full 25 percent, and providing budgetary certainty—for the first time ever—for the Indian Health Service. This bill delivers in a big way for Oregon and the nation, and it’s critical that the Appropriations process move ahead without delay to make sure these long-overdue investments become reality.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

The Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill includes funding to support wildfire management, following another year of unprecedented blazes, as well as providing funding to support efforts to address the water crisis in the Klamath Basin:

· Forest Health Restoration and Collaboration: The bill provides $80 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). Oregon has four active CFLR projects: Northern Blues Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project. This is the authorized maximum for the program that Merkley championed in the last Farm Bill.

· Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the next fire season, the bill provides $3.8 billion in funding for wildfire suppression accounts at land management agencies.  To reduce wildfire risk, the bill provides $664 million for hazardous fuels reduction projects.

· Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: In continued efforts toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, Merkley provided almost $30 million for habitat restoration and monitoring efforts in the Klamath Basin, an $18 million increase compared to last year.

· Payment in Lieu of Taxes: The bill includes $515 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing. This funding goes to Oregon counties that have large tracts of federal land, which doesn’t pay property taxes. The investment approved by Congress is $73 million over the president’s request.

· Wildfire Smoke Mitigation: The bill provides $10 million to establish a new grant program at EPA to support local efforts to prepare for and protect against wildfire smoke hazards, for example by developing smoke mitigation and filtration plans for schools and community buildings.

· Water Infrastructure: Critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act received $80 million to leverage billions of dollars in investments, such as those underway in Hillsboro, Portland and Gresham. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well-maintained to support public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act. In total, the bill includes well over $3 billion in loans and grants to support water infrastructure projects.

· Wood Innovation Grants: The bill provides $20 million, a historic funding level, for the WIG program to help encourage the growth of the mass timber economy in Oregon and to find markets to encourage the removal of hazardous fuels from our forests.

· Tribal Programs: In a historic first, the bill includes advanced appropriations for the Indian Health Service next fiscal year, in 2023. Advanced appropriations is a top priority for Indian Country and would protect IHS health care services for over 2.2 million Native Americans from future lapses in appropriations due to government shutdowns, and would provide some budget certainty for the continuity of care during unpredictable budget years. Additionally, the bill provides $18.1 billion for Tribal programs—a significant increase from last fiscal year. The funding includes $7.6 billion for IHS, an increase of $1.38 billion; and $3.9 billion for Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education programs, an increase of $433 million.

· Land and Water Conservation Fund: The bill provides $900 million, as required by the Great American Outdoors Act. For over 50 years the program has been the main source of funding for federal land and water acquisitions. Acquiring and protecting public lands not only provides environmental and recreational benefits, but also creates jobs in the tourism, recreation, timber, fishing, and other natural resource sectors.

· Earthquake Preparedness: The bill includes $93 million for the U.S. Geological Survey to support regional earthquake initiatives, including $28.6 million for the West Coast ShakeAlert early warning project. The bill also encourages the USGS to continue the development of a system for Cascadia that will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts of a major seismic event.

“In short, this funding will allow the City of Newberg to be better prepared in the event of an emergency,” said Newberg Mayor Rick Rogers. “We cannot thank Senator Merkley enough for his efforts on behalf of the residents of our community.”

“This is great news for our Yamhill community!” said Yamhill Mayor Yvette Potter. “The citizens of the City of Yamhill were diligent and dedicated to conserving water this summer during the declared State of Emergency Water Restrictions. This generous funding opportunity will support improvements to the aging water treatment plant and increase the water intake levels to better meet water capacity for the City. The City of Yamhill is very grateful to Senator Merkley and the Senate Appropriations Sub Committee for remembering the big needs of small-town communities.”

“We are very encouraged that the recently released Senate Interior Appropriations Bill contains significant funding for the Klamath Basin that will be directed toward addressing fisheries and aquatic resource needs,” said Donald C. Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes. “We greatly appreciate Senator Merkley and his staff for their work to secure funding needed to address resource problems affecting the Klamath Tribes Treaty resources and Klamath Basin communities.”

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