Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley—who serves as the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—issued a statement on the bipartisan infrastructure deal, including announcing a number of key wins for Oregon:
“From the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis, to the Labor Day fires and this year’s unprecedented blazes, it’s been a bruising 18 months for Oregonians in every corner of our state,” said Merkley. “There has never been a better time to invest in job-creating infrastructure projects that will help communities gain access to drinking water and other essential services; protect our families and businesses from the threat of more catastrophic wildfires; and maintain the incredible natural treasures that have long made crucial contributions to the spirit and economy of our state. I’m pleased to have been able to secure provisions in this package to help us achieve each of those goals.
“But it must be noted that while this package contains valuable provisions, we still have miles left to go. I’m furious that this package breaks with decades of precedent and President Biden’s strong commitment to organized labor by omitting strong labor standards for new federal investments. By itself, this bill is a failure on the climate. It omits critical investments in other aspects of infrastructure like the dramatic shortage of housing working families can afford.
“That’s why it has been critical from the beginning of this conversation that the Senate act on all of President Biden’s agenda, not just a narrow sliver. This bipartisan bill must be paired with an ambitious reconciliation bill that delivers transformative investments in our many critical priorities. My colleagues and I on the Budget Committee have worked out a plan for such a bill, and it is imperative that the caucus have consensus around moving both bills together.”
Provisions Merkley secured in the bipartisan package include over $50 billion in water infrastructure investments, including lead pipe replacement and remediation efforts to remove PFAS chemicals from drinking water, and over $3.5 billion for sanitation and water infrastructure projects in tribal communities. Merkley also worked to secure $500 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, which has been a critical source of funding for piping and irrigation modernization in the Deschutes Basin to conserve water, boost resilience to drought, and improve the habitat of the spotted frog, helping to keep Central Oregon family farms in business. Additional funding for the program will be critical to helping communities across Oregon and the Western United States adapt to increasingly severe drought conditions.
Additionally, Merkley worked to include over $160 million to support environmental restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin to improve water quality and restore habitat for the shortnose, Lost River suckers, and salmon; and nearly $80 million in funding to support restoration efforts in the Columbia River Basin, including cleaning up, reducing the use, and monitoring levels of toxics.
Merkley helped shape substantial funding—over $8 billion—for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to better prevent and respond to wildfires, and restore fire-ravaged landscapes. Within that funding, $2.4 billion would be allocated for hazardous fuels reduction efforts that help to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires; $2.1 billion would go toward ecosystem restoration activities; and $1 billion would fund grants for at-risk communities to fund wildfire mitigation activities.
To help support the firefighting workforce that has worked tirelessly to protect Oregonians from catastrophic wildfires and to accelerate the ecological recovery of lands impacted by wildfires, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior funding would also direct $650 million toward rehabilitation and restoration activities treating lands burned by wildfires; $600 million would be used to give firefighters a pay raise and to increase the year-round workforce; and $316 million would fund state grants and volunteer fire assistance grants. Merkley also fought to ensure that $250 million in funding would be allocated to Legacy Roads and Trails projects, and $100 million would be made available for Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) projects. Oregon has more CFLR projects than any other state.