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Merkley Discusses Salmon,
Russia at Virtual Town Hall

by Erick Bengl
Daily Astorian, March 20, 2022

Several speakers pushed for Merkley to get involved in the
multistate effort to remove dams from the Snake River.

Map: Remove Snake River Embankments and include 680MW of Combined Cycle Combustion Turbines as a 'Replacement Resource Portfolio'.  Note that Idaho's forests will easily compensate for that CO2 production, when salmon increase Idaho's forest acreage by the 1% growth that will arise as salmon return to Idaho. The conflict, he said, represents a clash between different visions of government.

"Ukrainian people have fought for the vision of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom to have fair elections," Merkley said.

He cautioned that the U.S. should avoid a direct military conflict with Russia; an escalation could lead, he said, to World War III or nuclear war. "That's the line that we have to carefully trod here," he said.

Rick Gray, of Cannon Beach, suggested a policy for Merkley to pass along to the White House: "For NATO and the U.S. to accept all of the Russian POWs and deserters and give them warm, comfortable custody for the remainder of the war." He said the policy would relieve Ukrainians of having to guard them while undermining the Russian war effort.

Depleted salmon stocks, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the health of the environment and of American democracy were top of mind for Clatsop County residents who attended U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's virtual town hall on Saturday afternoon.

The event came as the Oregon Democrat's party faces uncertain prospects in the midterm elections in November.

Democrats could lose majorities in Congress, as inflation continues and polls indicate most voters disapprove of President Joe Biden's performance.

Merkley highlighted the local impact of Democratic leadership, including the $7.8 million the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will fund grants for small businesses, affordable housing, mental health services, rural health care, internet access and emergency preparedness, among other items. Cities within the county received several million dollars, as well.

Merkley also touted an omnibus spending package that includes $1 million for a waterline project in Hammond. The upgrade is designed to prevent low water pressure when industrial demand is high.


Concerns about decreasing salmon levels arose repeatedly in the one-hour town hall -- Merkley's 20th of the year and 488th as U.S. senator. The senator holds the events annually in each of the state's 36 counties.

Several speakers pushed for Merkley to get involved in the multistate effort to remove dams from the Snake River -- the tributary that runs from Wyoming through Idaho and meets the Columbia River in southeast Washington state -- to help restore the salmon population.

Bob Rees, a fishing guide from Hammond, said, "We're hopeful that we can find a way for the Senate offices to kind of integrate into this conversation and find a solution that works for rural communities."

Judith Huck, of Astoria, echoed Rees' comments on the importance of salmon to the community and the need to remove the dams. "There's just a fraction of the number of salmon in the Columbia River than there used to be," she said, "and we do need you to be working towards improving that situation."

Merkley said the process is "no small deal because of all the roles those dams play."

For the past decade, he has worked to remove four dams from the Klamath River, and even with strong arguments in favor -- "very little electricity generation, no flood control role, no irrigation role" -- it will be about two years more before anything is taken out, even with the dams' owner wanting them gone, he said.

"We're talking about something on a scale far -- like, many orders of magnitude -- larger with the Snake River dams, and fierce, fierce opposition from many stakeholders in that region in terms of the possibility of removing the dams," he said. "So I don't want to understate what an intensive effort it would take to pursue that mission."

Merkley pointed out that salmon populations have declined in other rivers, as well. "They are having trouble everywhere, so the dams aren't the only issue," he said.

The senator, who has made the environment a priority, said that "we have to drive the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy," such as solar and wind.

"We have to do it really fast," he said. "The amount of carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere is actually accelerating -- that, for all the talk and intensity of everything we're doing, it's not decreasing, it's not slowing, it's accelerating."

Merkley's comments come a few weeks after President Biden announced the U.S. would ban imports of oil, coal and liquefied natural gas from Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine that began in late February.

He called Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions a war crime.

"It is considered a war crime to directly target civilians, and he is targeting schools and hospitals and cities, which is what he did in Chechnya," Merkley said. "But in this case, the Ukrainian people are much more prepared to resist. And we need to do everything we can to help them have those tools of resistance. We need to help them on the humanitarian side."

Merkley noted that, under the rules of war, POWs have protected status. Going further and "inviting them and knowing they'll be well treated is not a bad idea."

Filibuster reform

Laurie Caplan, of Astoria, a leader with the progressive group Indivisible North Coast Oregon, asked about cooperation in the Senate.

"It feels like the Republican Party is just determined to block anything so they can make President Biden look bad, and so they can make Democrats look bad, and so they can make democracy look bad and weak -- and be weak," she said.

Merkley pointed to his push to reform the filibuster. The senator advocated for a "talking filibuster," where a senator who wanted to hold up a bill had to continually speak in public. The minority party would know it couldn't sustain the tactic indefinitely, the majority party wouldn't want the legislative process stalled, so there would be a two-way incentive to negotiate, he said.

To reform the filibuster required 50 votes -- Vice President Kamala Harris would have served as a tiebreaker -- but Merkley could only get 48. All Republicans voted against it, and so did U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, arguing that the filibuster encourages cooperation.

Merkley said the current system rewards a minority party's obstruction and "really encourages partisan paralysis." Failure on the filibuster meant that voting rights legislation never came up for a vote in the Senate.

"I am really disappointed that I couldn't get two more people to reform the Senate last year," he said. "We've got to get there. It is not serving the American people well."

Erick Bengl Director, West Oregon Electric Cooperative District 5, Vernonia
Merkley Discusses Salmon, Russia at Virtual Town Hall
Daily Astorian, March 20, 2022

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