Congressman warns cattlemen of federal land lock-up efforts

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer January 26, 2011 02:51 pm

U.S. Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District talks about issues important to agriculture during Saturday’s cattlemen’s conference in La Grande. Walden warned that the federal government is considering proposals to lock up some 13 million acres of land in western states. CHRIS BAXTER/La Grande Observer
U.S. Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District talks about issues important to agriculture during Saturday’s cattlemen’s conference in La Grande. Walden warned that the federal government is considering proposals to lock up some 13 million acres of land in western states. CHRIS BAXTER/La Grande Observer

 

The U.S. government is leaning too hard on the agricultural industry and businesses in rural areas and there’s a need for a return to common sense, Congressman Greg Walden told a large crowd attending Saturday’s cattlemen’s conference in La Grande.

The event, hosted by cattlemen’s associations in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, drew about 500 people from throughout the Pacific Northwest, including many who live in Walden’s bailiwick, Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District.

The district is the state’s largest, and is 35 percent rural. At the top of his talk Saturday, Walden expressed concerns about shrinking availability of public lands for agricultural use.

“There are few issues that dominate the discussions more than public lands. There are threats that you probably know better than I,” Walden told the large group.

He said some 13 million acres of federal land in the West is at risk of being locked up. The comment was in apparent reference to an Interior Department memorandum that raises the possibility of designating several large parcels of land in nine states as national monuments.

According to a New York Times article, the Interior Department says the information in the memorandum is preliminary, and nothing’s been decided about which areas, if any, might be in for review.

But Walden told the crowd Saturday he is worried that members of Congress won’t have input into decisions. He said there are efforts afoot to bypass congressional authority.

Saturday’s cattlemen’s conference, hosted by cattlemen’s associations from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, attracted nearly 500 people. from the Pacific Northwest. The all-day workshop included talks on calf production, genetics, world beef markets and more.
Saturday’s cattlemen’s conference, hosted by cattlemen’s associations from Oregon, Washington and Idaho, attracted nearly 500 people. from the Pacific Northwest. The all-day workshop included talks on calf production, genetics, world beef markets and more.

 

“The Obama Wildland Initiative is talking about locking up public range for wilderness without congressional approval,” he said.

On a related note, Walden said he is troubled by the ease with which environmental groups can get public lands closed to natural resource use.

“Any citizen of America can say, ‘This land has wilderness characteristics, you better lock it up and study it,’ and they can do just that,” Walden said.

On a business issue of specific concern to Eastern Oregon, Walden talked about Ash Grove Cement’s struggle to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirements on  mercury emissions.

Ash Grove, near Durkee in Baker County, employs about 116 people and pays the county $1 million a year in property taxes. That figure represents about 10 percent of the county’s general fund budget.

Ash Grove has installed about $20 million worth of equipment to reduce mercury emissions, but still falls short of EPA standards by about 5 percent.

The EPA has refused to include a sub-category for Ash Grove in its mercury emission rules. Last November, Ash Grove filed suit against the agency, saying the sub-category is vital to staying in business.

A plant closure would be devastating to the regional economy, Walden said.

“When you lose 200 direct jobs in Eastern Oregon, it’s equivalent to 26,000 jobs in jobs in Western Oregon,” he said. “If this was happening in Portland, we’d be having a different discussion.”

On another agricultural subject, Walden said he is concerned about proposals to change federal regulations concerning dust raised by farming operations. He said a rule has been proposed to require farm machinery to tow water misting equipment.

“This is threatening wheat farmers,” he said. “Here they’re proposing a regulation for water misting, and there’s a water supply problem. Dust is a naturally occurring event in rural areas. We’ve got to get back to common sense in Washington.”

Walden earned a hearty round of applause as he took aim at federal rules protecting the gray wolf.

 Since the species started moving into Northeast Oregon from Idaho in the late 1990s, its numbers have grown. Wildlife experts believe there are about 30 gray wolves in the region, with the highest concentration in Wallowa County. Predation is a growing concern among local ranchers.

Walden said he is backing legislation that leaves wolf management up to the states.

“We’ll be introducing legislation that revises the Endangered Species Act and turns (wolf) management back to the states where it belongs,” he said.

Walden also talked about proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would affect woody biomass facilities.

The EPA recently decided to delay for three years implementation of regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from facilities that use biomass to produce energy.

Walden said he thinks it’s good the EPA backed off, but also said the issue hangs over the heads of potential investors.

“If I’m a businessman and I’m thinking about a $10 million investment, I’m going to be wondering about what the EPA’s going to do. There’s uncertainty because of the regulatory environment, and that’s not right,” Walden said.

 Toward the end of his talk, Walden touched on issues of national importance, including the need to reduce the deficit.

“It’s $14 trillion. I can’t get my mind around that. I don’t know what it is,” he said. “Forty-one cents of every dollar is borrowed. This is intergenerational theft and it has to stop.”

Saturday’s all-day conference, with a title “Pathways to Success,” included presentations on calf production, cattle genetics, world beef markets and more.