Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional
Dear fellow Oregonian,
So what did we buy today?
That was a question sarcastically heard often this week in the
halls of Congress — and I would guess in coffee shops across the
country — as the world’s financial markets suffered unprecedented
challenges and the Fed and Department of Treasury stepped in to
shore up America’s financial system and prevent collapse of some
Many of us were asking about the framework the Fed and Treasury
use to determine whom to help and whom to let fail? How do
un-elected bureaucrats get the authority to obligate taxpayers to
the tune of $85 billion in one instance alone, without ever
consulting Congress? And how much of the federal balance sheet is
at risk? While I fully understand the speed with which these
actions had to occur, it’s clear Congress has failed to do proper
oversight and reform.
After the House adjourned Thursday night, Treasury Secretary Hank
Paulson, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and others met with the
bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate to discuss emergency
legislation they need to address still further financial issues.
It’s likely that this legislation will get hammered out by the
leaders of both parties over the weekend and be ready for
consideration early next week.
Meanwhile, Congress needs to take another look at how to restrain
spending. I figure with the losses people are suffering — from
jobs, to homes, to income — revenues to the federal government
will decline at a time when we’re already up to our eyeballs in
If there was ever a time for a balanced budget requirement and
real spending reform, this is it. In fact, I think Congress should
stay in session as long as it takes to get this work done in a
serious and thoughtful way. Since Congress usually waits until
there’s an emergency to act, I think we’re there.
Energy — where’s the energy?
It wasn’t that long ago that $7 wheat would have meant a very good
year for growers, but in today’s environment input costs —
especially energy and fertilizer — keep growers up at night
wondering where the break even point is in today’s economy.
I heard that message loud and clear last week in Pendleton as the
community gathered to celebrate the 98th Pendleton Round-Up and
the 92nd Happy Canyon night show. A few weeks ago I met with
leaders of both organizations in our continuing effort to help
them secure funding for a major overhaul of the facilities at this
eastern Oregon icon in preparation for the Round Up’s centennial
Wheat growers in Umatilla County weren’t the only ones speaking up
about energy costs and the current state of our economy. I heard
similar concerns expressed recently at the opening of the new
Columbia Gorge Community College campus in Hood River and at
meetings in other central, southern and eastern Oregon
This week, Speaker Pelosi produced a 290-page energy bill for the
House to consider. It was crafted in secret, and never received a
committee hearing or mark up. In fact, it wasn’t made available to
members of the House until 10:45 the night before the House took
it up for a vote. It purports to allow drilling off our shores for
the oil and gas we so desperately need, and yet, it really only
allows access to areas that are 100 miles from shore and puts a
permanent moratorium in place out to 50 miles. The area between 50
and 100 miles could be accessed, but only if states approve.
However, there’s no sharing of royalties with those states and
therefore no reason for them to open up those areas. All this
explains why the most stalwart opponents of offshore energy
development voted for it.
As the Wall Street Journal wrote on today, this hoax “…would put
any bunko man to shame. This confidence trick won’t expand oil and
gas supplies one bit.”
The Bulletin in Bend also chimed in today: “Fortunately, this bill
is as likely to become law as its supporters are to support
meaningful oil exploration in coastal waters.”
And at a time when troubled homeowners and buyers are struggling
in the mortgage markets, it puts a new requirement Fannie Mae and
Freddie Mac to favor “energy efficient mortgages.”
Rather than open up access to America’s energy reserves and create
new energy and new jobs, initial data indicate it would
permanently ban access to American energy reserves in 88 percent
of the OCS.
My legislation, the Security and Energy for America Act (SEA Act),
would not only give all states authority over their coast lines
out to 75 miles, but also it would share revenues with states and
coastal counties that allow oil and gas production. It would
dedicate revenues from the royalties and fees to renewable energy
production, shoreline and estuary restoration, fund five years of
county timber payments and five years of Payments in Lieu of Taxes
I only wish the Democratic leadership would give those of us with
competing ideas an opportunity to have them heard and considered.
Perhaps after the elections are over, Congress can get serious
about a bipartisan solution to America’s energy and conservation
Forest Fires Part II
Last week in Washington, D.C., I met with the new Region Six
Forest Supervisor, Mary Wagoner. We talked about the demands
facing that agency as it cuts programs to improve forest health in
order to pay for this summer’s fire fighting. And she confirmed to
me that the agency now spends more than 50 percent of its budget
Last month I talked with people in Baker City and John Day who had
forest health contracts lined up and workers ready to work when
the money was suddenly pulled back and the contracts cancelled or
delayed. All across the country, the Forest Service is robbing
from every financial account to find hundreds of millions of
dollars that can pay for fire fighting. With the end of the fiscal
year less than a month away, they’re left with very few options to
find that much money. So every program is taking a hit.
Meanwhile, down in the Winema-Freemont National Forest, nearly
340,000 acres are ready to go up in flames. This dead forest has
needed help for a very long time. While some may say this bug kill
is just nature at work, what’s unnatural, Lake County
Commissioners tell me, is that the fir and ponderosa pine are
dying along with the lodge pole pine. And once again, treatment
dollars are going to pay for fire fighting costs elsewhere.
It’s time for the Senate to pass the FLAME Act, which would set up
a separate account within the Forest Service directly for fire
suppression costs, leaving the other accounts available for their
In the “old days” the Forest Service simply borrowed from the
Knutsen-Vandenberg (KV) Fund during fire season and repaid the
money later in the year. Of course, the money that went into the
KV fund came from timber harvest receipts. With the dramatic
decline of timber harvest off of federal lands came a concurrent
drop in money to the KV fund, contributing to both the financial
crisis facing the agency and the forest health crisis facing the
federal lands and the economic crisis endured by our timber
dependent communities and the people who live there. We need to
get this all back in balance.
Electricity Grid Under Attack?
On the day that the nation remembered those who perished on
September 11, 2001, the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee held a
hearing regarding the threat the country faces from cyber attacks
on our nation’s electric energy system and the urgent need to
change the law.
In the spring of 2007, the Department of Homeland Security
conducted a test that demonstrated a possible vulnerability in the
software controls of electric generators. This test revealed what
they called the “Aurora vulnerability.” The Aurora vulnerability
in generator control systems could allow someone to remotely
destroy a generator (presuming they can hack through a variety of
firewalls) by setting it out of phase. Hackers could also cause
extensive physical damage that could take months to repair. For
example, an intruder could switch off of the lubrication pumps,
causing a generator to seize up in a matter of seconds. The
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) identified 60
different means to affect equipment through remote internet
A June 2005 FERC staff report found 20 documented cases where
hackers penetrated networks and affected controls on dams and a
reactor, disabled backup generation, and shut down a power plant.
These attacks were launched by insiders, ex-employees, nation
states, and political groups, but in many cases the attackers
could not be traced.
The Central Intelligence Agency reports criminal enterprises have
taken control of grid systems in several foreign countries and
sought to extort payments.
While the National Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) can
issue advisories to address these issues, the concern is that
NERC’s processes are slow, public and may lack the enforcement
necessary to prevent major destruction of America’s energy grid
After last year’s test revealed the Aurora vulnerability, NERC
issued an advisory to 1,800 owners and operators of the national
power grid and provided a 60 day schedule for “immediate”
mitigation measures and a 180 day schedule for longer term
measures. Compliance is voluntary.
FERC conducted a recent audit of 30 utilities and found that 23
were in noncompliance of the NERC advisory. The legislation the
Subcommittee is considering would give Federal authorities the
power to compel implementation of remedial measures on an
emergency basis throughout the bulk power system when
vulnerability poses a threat to the system.
I, and other subcommittee members, received a classified briefing
on the extent of this threat to our nation Tuesday. I anticipate
our Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee will approve bipartisan
legislation to address this threat in the near future. The last
thing our nation needs is a successful attack on our electric
Speaking of energy, I got an update on our regional power issues
this week during a meeting with Steve Wright, the administrator of
the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). One of the issues we
discussed involves wind energy. I’m curious about how much of the
wind energy we’re generating in eastern Oregon is under contract
to utilities in other states, the limits on wind energy and the
effect all this may have on meeting Oregon’s renewable energy
requirements. These are issues that are very important to
Bonneville and to ratepayers in our region. In just a couple of
years, the Northwest will have more wind energy to mange on its
power grid—some 30 percent—than any other power grid in the
country. Because wind power can fluctuate rapidly and
dramatically, BPA must constantly smooth out the load. In the
future, this might actually require BPA to acquire new gas peaking
power plants to accommodate growth in wind power load.
There are serious grid and ratepayer issues that need attention
from policy makers and regulators as Oregon becomes the nation’s
leading producer of wind energy.
Meanwhile I also met with Tim Raphael of Pacific Ethanol to learn
more about the status of their Boardman refinery and their
research efforts to develop fuel from cellulosic material. As
recipients of a $24.3 million Department of Energy grant—which
they must match—they’re preparing to use new technology to create
ethanol from biomass. Personally, I think cellulosic holds great
promise for future fuel development and gets us away from using
food for fuel.
Duck Valley Water and the Owyhee
The House took up and passed legislation today that resolves a
long-simmering water issue in northern Nevada. I write about it
here, because the original draft of the bill caused great concern
for ranchers in the Owyhee Canyon area of southeastern Oregon.
I worked closely with State Rep. Cliff Bentz of Ontario and
ranchers in the area to craft language that resolved our concerns
without upending the thrust of the legislation, sponsored by my
colleague U.S. Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada. It’s always rewarding
to work with people who want to solve problems in a thoughtful way
— not just jam a bill through.
Having voted against the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac taxpayer
bailout, I was especially incensed to read later that the
departing chief executives of both organizations were going to
walk with golden parachutes of some $24 million combined. I wasn’t
alone, not only did I hear about it at home in the district, but
also among my colleagues, one of whom even introduced legislation
to prevent the bonuses from being paid. Because Fannie and Freddie
are creatures of the government and had the implied (now real)
backing of the taxpayers, the authority to deny such bonuses
already existed. I went ahead, however, and cosponsored the
legislation to make the point. And today, it was announced that
the bonus payments will not be made — a small and rare victory for
the taxpayers and those of us who want to reform the government.
Fighting the grasshoppers
If you’re in eastern Oregon you probably know about the
grasshopper infestation that’s currently threatening the
agriculture in the region. For over a decade, the federal
government has partnered with the state of Oregon to fund an
eastern Oregon entomologist position to diagnose and prescribe
treatments for these very kinds of infestations. This year,
however, it is uncertain whether the state is going to continue
funding its share of the position, which threatens the future of
the entomologist position. Supporting a program that has proven to
be very successful at diagnosing and controlling these problems
before they threaten the region’s economy is a no-brainer, and I
just cannot understand why the state may not continue its support.
That’s why I sent a letter to state leaders yesterday asking them
to continue its commitment to the entomologist position and
support the agricultural economy of eastern Oregon. You can read
more about it here.
Where did my TV picture go?
As you probably know by now, if you receive your television from
an antenna (not from satellite or cable) that analog signal goes
away in 155 days. Those of us in rural areas are most affected by
the transition. If your television is older and cannot process
digital signals you will either need to acquire a DTV converter
box, or a new digital TV and antenna before the February 17, 2009
cutoff of the analog signal. For more information on the
transition and $40 off coupons, go to http://www.dtv.gov/.
Oregon Ag leaders come east
Leaders from some of Oregon’s most important agricultural sectors
met with me this week in Washington, D.C. We discussed farm,
trade, research, energy and workforce issues. I got to spend time
with leaders from the Oregon Wheat Growers Association, the Oregon
Association of Nurseries and the Oregon Farm Bureau. In addition
to the uncertain agriculture, energy and financial markets,
Congress has failed to pass either the Agriculture or Interior
appropriations bills that fund these important government
agencies. With the fiscal year running out in two weeks, there’s
no plan to move forward on individual spending bills, but instead
the government will operate on a continuing resolution. That can
cause real problems for ag research, among other priorities, and
slow the implementation of the new farm bill and the reforms and
initiatives it contains.
That’s it for now. I’m writing this as I return to Oregon on
Friday. I will spend Saturday at meetings and events in Wallowa
County before returning to Washington, D.C. Monday.
As I said at the start, Congress will likely confront legislation
to give Treasury and the Fed more authority to prevent collapse of
our financial markets. At a time like this, Congress needs to go
further and stay in session and finish a budget for the government
on time, rather than punt this issue until after a month of
campaigning. We have serious work to do, and we should stay and do
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Best regards, Greg Walden Member of Congress