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Ron W.
Democrat OR

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  • Continuing Appropriations

    by Senator Ron Wyden

    Posted on 2013-10-07

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    WYDEN. Mr. President, before he leaves the floor, I want to thank the Senator from Illinois for his kind words, and I certainly support the appointments, and I am glad we were able to get that legislation passed on a bipartisan basis to help American industry.

    On Friday last, it was thrilling to read the United States is now No. 1 in the world when it comes to energy production--not Saudi Arabia, not Russia, but our country. It was a particular source of such satisfaction because, after all these years of the American people hearing about how we are dependent on foreign sources of energy, at the top of our papers Friday last the energy experts said the red, white, and blue was at the top in terms of energy production.

    This good news story about the energy boom is, obviously, as the Presiding Officer knows, absolutely essential to creating more high- skilled, high-wage jobs. I saw it, along with my colleague, when I was in his State, and we see it all across the country. This energy boom, for example, has been key to triggering a manufacturing renaissance-- the lower cost of natural gas in particular being a magnet to bringing companies that had gone overseas back to the United States again and employing our workers with good-paying jobs. It has been key to the falling imports of foreign oil. Of course, wind and solar farms are adding tremendously to the power mix. In our part of the country, Shepherds Flat in eastern Oregon is our country's biggest wind farm, and we are especially proud of it.

    The current senseless government shutdown is putting this good news story at risk. When it comes to causing problems, unfortunately, this shutdown has something for everybody. If you care about oil and natural gas development, Federal agencies now cannot approve drilling permits either on Federal land or offshore. If you care about renewable energy, wind and wave energy permitting is now at a standstill. It is at a standstill because of the shutdown. Environmental reviews for solar farms on Federal land have stopped. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has canceled a meeting about implementing two hydropower bills that passed this Congress on overwhelming votes.

    In my part of the country we are especially proud of this legislation. Hydropower is responsible. It is actually the biggest source of clean power in the United States. Industry estimates it could generate perhaps as much as 60,000 megawatts of additional clean power. These hydropower bills--there were two of them--were the first stand- alone energy bills to become law since 2009. Now they languish because of the shutdown.

    All of these developments--the developments I have described with respect to natural gas development, solar and wind energy, the hydropower laws that passed overwhelmingly in both the Senate and the House--are now, in effect, languishing. What it means is less new energy, fewer new jobs, and less revenue--less revenue that we are going to need in both the public and the private sector.

    I might also add this shutdown harms the important safety work that needs to be done by blocking work that is going to speed up the response to oilspills and accidents offshore. Of particular concern to me, and I know to so many others in the Senate--I see my colleague from Alaska is here--are the people who get hammered, who get hit hardest by these consequences who live in our rural communities, the ones who depend upon producing energy, timber, and recreation. They are the ones who feel the biggest hit from the shutdown.

    I am going to talk about what this means in terms of recreation and hunting and fishing. The hunting season starts at different times in different parts of the country, but between recreation and hunting and fishing we are talking about something in the vicinity of $646 billion a year which goes just to the recreation sector, and another $140- billion-plus in terms of hunting. I am going to describe the consequences there, but we are talking about policies with enormous impact for our rural communities.

    I mentioned the thrilling news of last Friday, about how we were tops in terms of energy production, but I got some additional news that wasn't exactly thrilling last Friday when I was [[Page S7262]] called by the Chief of the Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, who called to report the Forest Service had canceled 450 timber sales on 120 national forests across the country. What that means is loggers, such as the hardworking folks I represent in Oregon, who want to do a hard day's work, are being benched because of this shutdown.

    The shutdown comes at a particularly ominous time because winter is at hand, in effect putting an end to logging operations for the year in many parts of our country. That means workers won't be able to make up for this lost time and money this year. Those loggers will simply have to get by with less. So again, rural communities are the face of what this means. They are the ones that are going to get walloped because of a handful of Members of Congress--a handful of Members of Congress--who won't fund the government.

    So logging, energy, recreation, I mentioned the hunting season, the sort of flip side of the coin with respect to recreation. While the hunting season for ducks and geese is starting in my home State and across the country, the government shutdown here is closing hundreds of wildlife refuges where those waterfowl are normally fair game. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, hunting, fishing and wildlife-related activities generate about $144 billion per year. Hunters contribute $5.4 billion in State and local taxes each year. Because the waterfowl season is only 3 months long in Oregon, if you lose 1 week, every lost week is a huge bite out of the benefits that hunting brings to our local economy.

    What Senators may also not be aware of is the shutdown also means our government is less prepared to respond to these fires, these rapidly developing dangerous infernos in our national forests. The fires have lessened in some parts of the West, but there are areas of high to extreme danger in California, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, South Dakota, and other States. While many firefighters are considered essential, others, such as our off-duty firefighters, have been furloughed. Public safety on Federal lands is also impacted by these furloughs. Although law enforcement continues, without rangers and other agency employees on hand, the conditions are ripe for visitors to find their way into severely understaffed forests and pose a safety risk. And, of course, thousands of hardworking employees at these key natural resource agencies are now out of work.

    As we speak, there are 24,000 furloughed at the Forest Service, more than 10,000 furloughed at the Bureau of Land Management. If they are not working, Bureau of Land Management employees can't issue permits for grazing on Federal lands. Energy Department workers and contractors can't clean up nuclear waste sites, such as that at the Hanford Reservation that threatens the Columbia River and the million people who live downstream.

    Our committee, recognizing the situation, recently had to cancel a hearing on the Columbia River Treaty, which is vital to the energy and environment of the Pacific Northwest. It is vital to our relations with Canada. This treaty is about managing a river that is the lifeblood for the Pacific Northwest. It is our lifeblood for transportation, for electricity, for fish, and there isn't much time for our two nations to come together to decide the treaty's future.

    I have tried to describe what the shutdown means in terms of our status as No. 1 in energy production, what it means with respect to logging and forest fires, hunting and recreation, and it is all happening because a small group of Members in the other Chamber is demanding negotiations with the American economy tied to the train tracks. It is especially ironic that in many cases the districts of those Members are the ones that are going to bear the brunt of the impasse, those rural communities. They are the ones that are going to bear the consequences of stalled energy production and stalled logging.

    I hope we can quickly come together and pass this budget without all the various additions that have made it impossible for Congress to go forward. It is time to reopen the government. I have spent a lot of time working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle on these other issues, and I will continue to do so, and I know a lot of Senators will. Right now it is time to reopen the government and end the shutdown.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Alaska.

    Mr. BEGICH. Mr. President, if the Senator will stay on the floor for a moment, one of the bills mentioned by the Senator from Illinois was the helium bill. Within that there is an important Alaska priority. I know my colleagues worked with the Senator--important to my State--on cleaning up those legacy wells that have been on Federal land for years with oil literally seeping out of those wells. And now there is money for the first time in I don't know how many years to actually clean up these wells. But from what I just heard, and correct me if I am wrong, what the Senator just indicated is that the Bureau of Land Management doesn't have the capacity to do permitting and other staffing. So there is no work to be done even though we finally passed a bipartisan bill in both Houses, signed by the President--something that has been waiting for decades to be cleaned. Am I correct on this, that BLM now can't do the work we want them to do? And Alaskans have been desperately waiting for decades.

    Mr. WYDEN. I say to the Senator, we know for certain that 10,000 individuals have been furloughed at the Bureau of Land Management. And I tried to describe particularly getting these new permits. I guess if we are already out there with something--and I talked to Chief Tidwell about how we would try to stabilize operations that have, in effect, been put in place now. But we are not going to be able to go forward with new operations like the Senator from Alaska is describing.

    Mr. BEGICH. I know the Senator came to Alaska a few months ago and had an opportunity to see some of the great ability of our energy companies and what we are trying to do. Today I got an important announcement from Exxon and ConocoPhillips about building an LNG plant in an area the Senator had a chance to see. I didn't want to tell them yet, but I wanted to say thank you for the announcement, the multibillion-dollar investment in our State, something we have been doing already for 40 years--exporting to Japan. But now if there are any Federal Government permits they will need, the odds of them getting them in a timely manner are now delayed. Is that a fair statement? Mr. WYDEN. Again, the Senator is right, because in Alaska, like Oregon, there is an extraordinary level of Federal ownership. In my State the Federal Government owns more than half of the land. The Senator is absolutely correct. With the shutdown, Federal agencies cannot approve drilling permits either on Federal land or offshore, and I saw both when I was in Alaska.

    The point is that these are issues we can work on in a bipartisan way. As soon as the government gets reopened, we will go about the task of getting those permits out and coming together on a bipartisan basis, as we have done on so many issues. But we can't do it if the government is shut down. We can't do it if we can't pay our bills. That is what we are going to have to deal with.

    Mr. BEGICH. I think this is more of a question/comment. One of the statements at the end talked about how this was held up. We passed a bill out of here--a continuing resolution--in which we cut, on an annualized basis, $70 billion. We didn't compromise. We took their number. Let's make sure we are clear. We negotiated starting back in July, reduced and reduced, and then we went with their number, a $70 billion annualized reduction. The body passed it, and nothing passes out of this body unless we get a motion to proceed with some sort of unanimous consent or bipartisan, and that was 99 to 0--people forget that--to move us to the bill. Then we moved it and sent it over to the House, where it has sat since the day we sent it over there. That would have kept this budget operating. Again, it had a $70 billion annualized reduction.

    I think that was the point toward the end of the Senator's comment, that a simple vote over there would put everyone back to work--these permits we just talked about, cleaning up the legacy wells.

    The timber we have in southeastern Alaska is now in jeopardy because our Federal lands are now at risk. Is that a fair assessment? Mr. WYDEN. It is. And I am sure the Senator was involved in this as well, [[Page S7263]] where, after all these years about hearing that the Senate hadn't passed a budget, we stayed up one night until the wee hours and passed a budget. We had scores of votes. Then a lot of us simply wanted to have a conference with the other body. After hearing that there hadn't been a budget, we thought we would be able to get that conference going, and we haven't been able to do that either.

    Mr. BEGICH. And they have passed their budget too. So we have two budgets ready to go to conference; is that fair? Mr. WYDEN. It was there for the doing. I remember coming to the floor and asking unanimous consent to go to conference. I knew there had been some conferencing. But there was an immediate objection. At that time I pointed out that Republican and Democratic economists were saying look to the long term. I talked about it that day, saying that Senator Isakson of Georgia--a very able Member of the Finance Committee--and I have some new ideas on Medicare that we think can protect the Medicare guarantee and hold costs down. But we can't get at those kinds of issues unless, as the Senator says, we first reopen the government with that simple vote.

    Mr. BEGICH. I appreciate the comments, and I thank the Senator for answering these questions. I think it is important again to point out that budget was passed back in April-May. We did ours, and they did theirs. We have tried 18 times to bring the two parties together. We have tried unanimous consent, as the Senator noted, here on the floor 18 times.

    Then we went to this continuing resolution. That debate and negotiation started in July. The House had one number, and we had one number. As time progressed, we took their number--a $70 billion annualized reduction. Some would not call that a compromise, but we will call it a negotiated compromise because we wanted to get it done. We again sent it over there. It has sat idle. One person--the Speaker-- could put it on the floor. I heard him on the radio or TV this weekend explaining how the votes aren't there. Well, if the votes aren't there, put it on the floor and it will fail. But the reality is that the votes are there.

    Just as we have taken every one of their items, brought it to the floor--we have voted on every single item over here. They haven't prevailed, but we voted because that is the process. But for whatever reason, it has gone over there and sat idle.

    So if the Speaker doesn't think the votes are there, put it up. His side will win then. But there are clearly Republicans and Democrats over on the House side who want to put the government back in operation so we can get on to these bigger issues.

    Is that a fair chronology of events? Mr. WYDEN. It is. And what I was struck by over the weekend with respect to those comments is, why not at least try that? If we add up all the Members on both sides of the aisle who said they would vote, for whatever---- Mr. BEGICH. House Members.

    Mr. WYDEN. Yes, the House Members who said they would vote for it, it sure looks as though the votes are there. And if they are trying to break the gridlock, why not try? So I hope that kind of thinking will set in here in the next few hours because that would be the fastest way, as the Senator from Alaska has made clear, to get the government open.

    Mr. BEGICH. I thank the Senator for allowing me to ask some questions.

    Mr. WYDEN. I thank my colleague, and I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Montana.

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