Republican presidential candidates aren’t talking much about the environment—unless the debate is about energy independence and opening more oil and gas fields. But as GOP hopefuls turn their attention to Oregon, they may find that Republican voters in the Pacific Northwest want to hear about other natural resources, too, like timber and water.
“If we have abundant resources like water and the renewable resource of forests, why aren’t we using them to better economic advantage? I think Republicans have rallied around these issues and we’re looking for ways to put rural Oregon back to work,” said Greg Leo, chief of staff for Oregon’s Republican Party.
He and other Republicans talked about the environment during the recent, annual Dorchester Conference.
Timber was on the minds of some people there. There’s an ongoing debate about how much forest to preserve and how much to harvest, and the federal government controls a lot of timberland in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
“Timber used to be so important to Oregon economy, but because the federal timber lands have been not allowing the cut of the trees, there’re many places in rural Oregon that really have been economically depressed for as long as the forests have been locked up,” Leo said.
In general, the Republican candidates support more use of public lands and waters. They haven’t been quoting Sarah Palin, but their message is the same: It’s Drill, Baby Drill.
Oil and Gas
Rick Santorum says that on Day One of his presidency, he will sign an order giving states the right to set their own regulations on gas and oil drilling.
Mitt Romney says he will open more lands for gas and oil drilling.
Ron Paul would remove all bans on drilling onshore and offshore.
And Newt Gingrich says the United States could open up enough oil fields in the next year to cause the price of oil worldwide to collapse.
Oregon timberman K.C. VanAtta would like to see his fuel prices drop.
“Last year, I did most of my logging on two-dollar and seventy-eight cent diesel. This year the last diesel I pushed was three-fifty-five a gallon and now it’s gonna be over four dollars a gallon and that runs into real money when you suck up a couple hundred gallons a day,” VanAtta said.
VanAtta is a Republican. He and his family have been harvesting timber from their private land since 1966.
Their business has been hurt by the housing market crash.
“If you’re not doing a lot of construction, there’s not a lot of need for timbers,” he said.
Demand for timber in Asia has helped the industry cushion that blow.
Opening up more federal forest land could play a role in the renewable energy debate.
“Down where I live we have the huge beetle kill and they will not let the loggers in to log that out, and if they don’t get it logged out, it’s going to be a disaster because if we have a forest fire it will destroy those lands for a long period of time, said Sally MacLeod, president of the
The forest waste could become fuel.
“If that can be gleaned; turned into biomass and if there is federal legislation which encourages people to use that renewable resource, we think that is good for Oregonians and good for our forests,” Leo said.
Sally MacLeod, president of the Oregon Federation of Republican, doesn’t want a repeat of what happened in 2001 when a drought heightened the competition for water. To protect fish, the federal government cut water supplies to farmers in the Klamath Basin. Many suffered economic consequences.
“When I would drive around Klamath County I wanted to cry because the sprinklers were no longer going. Nothing was growing. It’s very high desert country down there and we need irrigation for our farmers,” MacLeod said.
Water quantity is important, but water quality is another issue.
Romney has promised to amend both the federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts to make sure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency factors in the cost of regulation.
Gingrich says he’ll do away with the EPA and create what he would call the Environmental Solutions Agency.
Santorum has said more about air quality than water quality. He says he would repeal the EPA rule on carbon dioxide emissions.
And Paul wants to get rid of the EPA altogether.
That might please some Republicans in the Pacific Northwest. Others look for the middle ground.
“Of course, all of us want clean water. Now the devil’s in the details about what does that means and what price do we pay for either not having clean water or by having clean water,” said Patrick Donaldson, a Portland Republican.
Donaldson works for a company involved in business continuity. He has lived in Oregon all his life and enjoys the outdoors.
“Once that environment is gone that which gives us if you want to call it a competitive advantage both from a business standpoint as well as just in terms of our lives and lifestyles and livability is gone,” he said.
Donaldson advocates for “wise use” of the environment, a balance between conservation of natural resources and using them for economic gain.
He and other Oregon Republicans will have a chance to choose a presidential candidate in May, when Oregon holds its primary.
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.