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Congress wants to throw around a lot of money next year to improve roads and other publicly owned in

We hope some of those dollars land in Baker County.

Equally important, we hope those dollars not only boost the local economy, but also make the county a better place to live and to visit.

To achieve those goals, local officials will need to compile a list of projects that lack only the money to get them going.

Officials will have to hurry, though.

Compromise needed

The decades-old disagreement over managing America’s public forests has not been fertile ground for compromises.

But occasionally such a chance comes along, and we despair when the rare opportunity seems to be slipping through our grasp.

That appears to be the case, though, with the federal government’s campaign to reduce the risk of summer wildfires by  logging and lighting prescribed fires in overcrowded forests.

What frustrates us is that the basic idea behind that campaign appeals not only to the Forest Service and the timber industry, but also to many environmental groups that have vehemently opposed other types of timber sales.

Groups such as Oregon Wild and the La Grande-based Hells Canyon Preservation Council agree with Forest Service officials that millions of acres of national forests in the West are sickly and vulnerable.

There’s general concurrence, too, on research that shows historic logging of the biggest, healthiest trees, combined with the exclusion of lightning-caused fires, is largely responsible for the problem.

The Bush Administration’s and Congress’ chief strategy for solving that problem was to ease federal environmental laws so the Forest Service can get the trees cut and the fires lit sooner.

No more topping off

Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission has decided you shouldn’t be able to have your car’s fuel tank “topped off” at any service station in the state.

We agree.

Topping off, though a common practice, is a wholly unnecessary one.

Oregon’s a big state, sure, but it’s hardly the Gobi Desert.

The longest fuel-less stretch on Oregon’s highway system is about 70 miles — well within the range of the most voracious gas guzzler with a tank that’s been filled but not topped off.

That extra half-gallon that the attendant can cram in after the pump’s automatic flow shuts off equates to at most an extra 25 miles or so.

Federal grant is money well spent

Government has a reputation for spending millions of dollars to try to solve some social problem, only to have the problem persist.

Or get worse.

Sometimes that reputation is deserved.

The government’s lackluster progress over several decades of combating poverty and drug abuse, for instance, lend credence to the criticisms of cynics.

But in some cases the government’s habit of doling out dollars actually achieves results more valuable than spawning a bureaucracy and giving politicians fodder for campaign speeches.

The $2.5 million that the federal government will give to Baker, Union and Wallowa counties over five years certainly isn’t going to waste so far.

That’s no Sunday drive

The four-team Greater Oregon League is hardly an ideal situation for athletics.

But it’s far better than the idea that a committee from the Oregon School Activities Association might propose.

“Far” is the most relevant word in this case.

The committee has discussed doubling the GOL to eight teams starting in the 2010-11 school year. The current contingent of Baker, La Grande, Mac-Hi and Ontario would be joined by four schools from Central Oregon: Crook County, LaPine, Madras and Sisters.

Except it seems silly to describe as “joined” two quartets of schools that are at least 210 miles apart.

Distance is why the committee’s proposal won’t work, and shouldn’t happen.

More specifically, adding thousands of miles to GOL teams’ travels each year would cost  schools thousands of dollars. At a time when many districts, including Baker, are trying to trim costs, those extra dollars aren’t readily available.

Looking to the future, minus the haze

We think the views around Baker County are pretty stunning now, but Oregon officials contend the vistas ought to be clearer.

Well, we won’t complain if that happens.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality believes it can happen.

The DEQ recently wrote a report that calls for cutting airborne pollution by 80 percent in the next decade at Portland General Electric’s coal-fired power plant in Boardman.

That, combined with a reduction in emissions as cleaner cars replace less-efficient models, could rid parts of Oregon of the unhealthy haze that casts a pall across the horizon.

We could notice a difference within 10 years at places such as Hells Canyon and the Columbia River Gorge, according to DEQ.

The agency’s longer-term goal is much more ambitious, though.

That goal is to eliminate manmade haze by 2065.

Merkley’s rhetoric

Sen. Gordon Smith’s campaign ads accusing Jeff Merkley of ignoring rural Oregon weren’t persuasive enough to win Smith another term.

But the spots seem to have gotten Merkley’s attention.

Merkley, the Democratic Senator-elect who will replace Smith next month, told The Associated Press last week that he will advocate for two issues crucial to rural regions.

First, Merkley said he will draft legislation to continue the “county payments” program.

That program, which Ron Wyden, Merkley’s soon-to-be senatorial colleague, helped to create eight years ago, supplies about half of Baker County’s Road Department budget.

Second, Merkley told a reporter that he wants the federal government to increase logging in publicly owned second-growth forests to sustain what’s left of the timber industry and to reduce the risk of wildfires.

Congress’ compromise on the Big 3 bailout

Congress has crafted a fair compromise in its effort to help two of America’s Big 3 automakers, General Motors and Chrysler, weather an unprecedented slump in sales.

The $15 billion loan package that lawmakers could vote on as soon as today would protect those two vital cogs in the country’s economy, and the millions of workers whose jobs depend on them.

We’re glad, though, that the dollars would have attached to them about as many strings as a piano.

For instance, the president will appoint a “car czar” who will, in essence, supervise wholesale changes in how GM and Chrysler do business.

And this car czar will have the authority to cut the federal pursestrings if the automakers botch the job, and even to force the companies to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That would save the companies but require them to restructure.

Good and bad in governor’s budget

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s proposal to raise taxes during the current recession has prompted predictable criticism, some of which we second.

Some, but not all.

For instance, we support the governor’s plan to boost the state gas tax by 2 cents per gallon to raise money to repair roads and replace bridges.

That modest increase will create thousands of construction jobs — and creating jobs is precisely what Oregon, with its rising unemployment rate, needs.

We also endorse Kulongoski’s proposed 60-cents-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, and a 25-percent boost in taxes on other tobacco products.

The extra money would pay for health insurance for thousands of children.

Recruiting ramblers

Comparing Northeastern Oregon to, say, Switzerland is not as outlandish as it might seem.

For decades now various writers have described the Wallowa Mountains as “America’s Alps” or something similar.

Such associations are apt, based on scenery and, in some cases, on geology.

Our mountains could hardly be more different from the Alps, though, in the ways hikers travel through them.

A group of Baker City residents wants to change that.

The group, led by Don Chance, who’s the city’s planning director; Economic Developer Gene Stackle and retired teacher Dick Hentze, believes our region can attract “ramblers.”

Those are hikers who prefer the Alpine style — staying each night in a hut or other building, and carrying a small pack with a lunch and basic essentials.

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