Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



About 60 people came to visit with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., during a town hall meeting Tuesday at the Geiser Grand Hotel.

Baker County Commissioner Tim Kerns introduced Walden and noted that between his service first as a state legislator, then as a congressman, Walden has commuted from Salem and Washington, D.C., so often that the total distance traveled equates to four round trips to the moon.

Walden, who is running this year against Joyce Segers of Ashland for a seventh two-year term representing the Second Congressional District, addressed a variety of topics with local significance that he's worked on.

He wants logging to increase in Oregon's national forests. Walden said two-thirds of the state's sawmills have closed, and 45,000 mill jobs have been lost, since 1980.

"The government owns 60 percent of the forest land but harvests just 12 percent of the state's timber output," Walden said.

The federal government has provided money to counties that had been dependent on this industry to help pay for basic services, such as roads, schools and law enforcement. A five-year extension for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, PILT, made it through the House Natural Resources Committee last week, Walden said.

More harvesting on federal lands would help localities pay for many more services and this effort is something with which he heartily agrees, he said.

Walden said he also supported the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama that President Barack Obama signed. Those agreements could bring more than 10,000 jobs to Oregon, Walden said.

Legislation that would stop regulation of agricultural dust, HR 1633, has passed through the House. Walden is a co-sponsor of this bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward with any new rules for one year. The bill has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

Walden referred to the ag dust rules tightening sought by the EPA as "cockamamie."

Another piece of legislation focused on stopping EPA actions, called the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act, HR 2681, also was approved by the House. The bill, which could protect Ash Grove Cement's Durkee plant from possible closure, orders the EPA to propose less stringent standards for the industry. This legislation, which Walden has supported, also awaits action in the Senate.

The debate over enacting more stringent rules regarding youth farm labor - which Walden has said is detrimental to family agriculture - slowed ast week after the U.S. Department of Labor "backed off," he said.

Regarding this and some other environmental issues, the congressman said: "The administration is backing off until an odd-numbered year."

The audience responded with head nods and "uh-huhs." Walden expects regulatory efforts will continue after the election.

Walden also pointed out that it has been more than 1,000 days since the U.S. House has passed a budget. He used a graph to illustrate the deficit growth expected during this century if the nation's spending trend doesn't change.

The graph shows the current spending path resulting in a debt that approaches 900 percent of the nation's gross national product by 2080.

Arvid Andersen of Baker City asked Walden about the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

President Obama told Congress that 60 days is not enough time to make a decision, but then he "only needed 26 days to say no," Walden said. "There's no reason this couldn't be approved."

Marshall McComb of Baker City talked about the disparity in wealth among Americans and asked what could be done about it.

A large number of people are still "underwater because jobs are so underpaying," McComb said.

Walden said he wants to stop the erosion of the middle class by helping small business because it's the state's "great strength."

He wants to see these business people helped by reducing the regulations they must deal with. And he wants to see by more emphasis on math and science education in the U.S.

"It's a race to the top - not to the bottom," Walden said. "I talk to small business people who feel like they've had enoughandhellip; They need a government that's a partner."

Justin Heffernan suggested that public schools also spend more time on teaching youth about food and where it comes from because "a lot of people don't understand the significance," he said.

"A whole lot of people think milk comes from a carton at Safeway," Walden said. "It needs to be part of the curriculum."

He also said that while there's a lack of understanding there's also an interest today in food and "an opportunity to talk about it."

Another idea he supports to help business and the nation's economy is the "Reins Act," or the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny" Act. HR 10 would require Congressional approval of rules and regulations that would have an effect of more than $100 million on the economy.

Republicans are amenable to this type of concept, introduced by Sen Rand Paul, R-Ken. It has made it through the House.

Mining, frivolous appeals and litigation, and tourism, specifically national scenic routes, were among other topics brought up.

The latter issue prompted Walden to bring up a recent controversy over a television commercial crew not being able to film on Cascade Lakes Highway in the Deschutes National Forest near Bend because the U.S. Forest Service wouldn't approve the project. The federal agency cited safety concerns because of the proposed use of two SUVs and a helicopter in an area popular with snowmobilers and cross country skiers.

Walden's office became involved in an effort to bring about an accord between the Forest Service and the production company, but the filming now will take place near Lake Tahoe.

Central Oregon officials were "livid" about the Forest Service not allowing the project - especially because it lost the region an estimated $150,000, Walden said.

He talked about other types of regulation that he sees as problematic. One he highlighted is the "Independent Payment Advisory Board" created by the Affordable Care Act. It would attempt to solve the problem of ever-increasing Medicare spending through legislation.

Many Republicans are against this 15-member board because it has no oversight, Walden said.

The group kept asking questions and kept the congressman after 6 p.m. - more than a half-hour past the scheduled end of 5:30 p.m.

Walden is also scheduled to visit Umatilla and Nyssa during his two-day swing through Eastern Oregon.