On October 21, Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley announced key provisions in the U.S. Department of Interior Appropriations bill that provide critical investments in earthquake preparedness, water infrastructure, and wildfire suppression and recovery activities that are of particular importance to Oregon as wildfires become increasingly frequent and extreme. The Appropriations bill passed the full Senate the same day.
“Preparedness, protection and prevention are always key watchwords when it comes to achieving the goal of keeping Oregonians safe,” Wyden said. “These investments are crucial to achieve that objective because they prepare Oregon communities to survive a devastating earthquake, protect safe drinking water and prevent wildfires that threaten lives and businesses throughout our state.”
“From flames that threaten homes to hazardous smoke that blankets entire communities, every Oregonian has experienced the consequences of increasingly severe and frequent wildfires,” said Merkley, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This bill invests in both recovery and prevention efforts to save our forests, our communities, and our farms, ranches and other businesses from devastating losses. It also secures critical resources for water infrastructure that will create jobs while improving sanitation and drinking water across Oregon. I will continue to use my seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fight for the emergency and long-term resources communities across Oregon rely on.”
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.
Key elements of the appropriations bill that will impact Oregon include:
Forest Health Restoration and Collaboration: The bill includes funding increases for several programs that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires on public and private lands. In addition, the bill maintains funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program at $40 million. Oregon has three active CFLR projects: Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, and Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project.
Wildfire Management: In anticipation of the coming fire season, the bill includes $1.394 billion for fire suppression at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior.
Columbia River Basin Restoration Program: The EPA will receive $1.2 million to begin the planning process to implement the Columbia River Basin Restoration Program. Merkley created this program to provide grants to business owners, farmers, ranchers, local governments, and others in the Columbia Basin to clean up and reduce toxics for a cleaner, healthier basin.
Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: The bill includes $7 million to support strategies to restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River sucker fish.
California Condors: The bill includes $2.5 million for Recovery Challenge Grants that will support the California Condor Recovery Program, which includes the Oregon Zoo. To date, the condor population has reached more than 500 birds, 300 of which are living in the wild.
Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill includes $500 million for the PILT program to fund vital services for rural communities, including public safety, social services, transportation and housing.
Clean Air and Water Funding: The bill provides an additional $161 million for the EPA.
Water Infrastructure: Critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) received $73 million to leverage over $6.6 billion in investments. Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, which was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act.
Tribal Programs: The Indian Health Service, which provides health care to thousands of tribal members in Oregon, received $6.041 billion. The Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education received an additional $51 million.
Land and Water Conservation Fund: The bill provides $465 million, enough to fund all pending LWCF projects in Oregon. 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 $170.8 million for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Natural Hazards programs, including $2 million for regional earthquake initiatives like ShakeAlert. The bill also encourages the USGS to continue the development of a real time instrumentation system for the Cascadia subduction zone that will help prepare for and mitigate the negative human and economic impacts of a major seismic event.
The next step for the bill is merging with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.