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Water bill stalls in Congress.
House won’t sign off on the legislation
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 12/7/14
     Time is running short for the Klamath Settlements. As of Monday, the water package only has four days to gain federal approval.

   According to lawmakers, the chances of that happening are slim.

   On Monday, Congress will convene for the last week of the 2014 legislative session. Lawmakers must pass spending legislation by Thursday or risk another government shutdown.

   Water stakeholders hoped the Klamath Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, SB 2379, could be pushed through for presidential approval attached to a year-end spending bill.

   “At this point in the lame duck session, however, inclusion in the bill requires the sign off from both the House and Senate negotiators.  

   “Unfortunately, we have received word from both the Senate negotiators and directly from House members that the House will not sign off on the bill,” said Courtney Warner-Crowell, a spokesperson for Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

   In partnership with bill sponsor Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Merkley has worked to build bipartisan support for SB 2379. The legislation, he said, is essential for delivering a win-win resolution to water conflicts in the region.
       According to Andrew Malcolm, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., major issues such as the Klamath bill will not be included in the yearend omnibus bill. Malcolm said the bill was already rejected from inclusion in a public lands bill and a tax bill that is moving through Congress.

   “House Republican leaders stepped in to block critical Oregon priorities that have received bipartisan support – including the O&C forestry bill and Klamath River Basin restoration agreement. It is my plan to keep pulling out all the stops to move these important bills forward as soon as possible,” Wyden said.  

   Malcolm noted that SB 2379 faces major opposition in the House from the chairman of the House Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and members of the California delegation.

   “Based on that, it would be outside the norm for it to be included in a ‘must pass’ year-end bill, like the government funding bill, when it hasn’t passed out of either chamber and when it faces major opposition from some in Congress,” Malcolm said.

   In April, Walden suggested that a comprehensive water bill may not make it through the House as a single piece of legislation, particularly if a provision for removing four dams on the Klamath River is included.  

   According to Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry, who met with Walden Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Walden is holding to that statement.

   “My discussion with Congressman Walden indicated he can’t, or he won’t, approve moving that forward. It’s pretty disappointing,” Gentry said.

   Gentry said stakeholders have been encouraged by the tide of positive support in recent weeks, especially endorsements coming from the ag community.

   In addition to the Klamath Falls City Council and the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce each writing letters to support the bill, the Klamath County Farm Bureau and the Klamath County Cattlemen’s Association have thrown their support behind it.

   The Klamath County Commissioners wrote a letter to Walden opposing SB 2379, particularly conditions relating to removing the Klamath River dams.

   “The county commissioner opposition is still seen as a pretty significant obstacle,” Gentry said.

   Gentry said during his meeting with Walden, he and representatives from other tribes reiterated the crucial role dam removal plays in the settlement.

   “I think folks thought somehow that could be removed and things could be pushed through, but that is a key element of what we negotiated to,” Gentry said.

   According to Warner-Crowell, Merkley is concerned that lawmakers are about to miss an opportunity essential to the future success of the Klamath Basin.

   “Sen. Merkley believes that we should seize this moment and pass this legislation,” Warner-Crowell said. “This opportunity might not come again anytime soon, and failure to implement the agreement could be catastrophic for the region.”

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  

  H&N file photo

   SB 2379 faces major opposition in the House from the chairman of the House Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.




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