Departure of Hastings and Wyden from key positions will impact federal timber reform

2014-03-04 Ashley Bach

Doc Hastings is a Republican, and Ron Wyden is a Democrat. But both members of Congress are from the Northwest and both care deeply about increasing the federal timber harvest. Which is why some impending changes to their status in Washington, D.C., could have major implications for the Northwest's clout on environmental issues, especially federal timber reform.

Rep. Hastings, from Pasco, Wash., is leaving Congress at the end of the year after 20 years in office. He is the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and has been an important advocate for meaningful reform on federal timber management. His bill, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, passed the House last year with wide support from the timber industry.

Sen. Wyden, from Portland, recently stepped down as the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to take over as head of the Senate Finance Committee. Wyden proposed his own timber reform legislation that was meant to be more palatable to the Democrat-controlled Senate than Hastings' bill. Wyden's bill covers only Oregon and is opposed by many timber leaders, but Wyden was at least able to use his post as head of the Natural Resources Committee to ensure that timber reform was a priority.

Now what? Wyden is still on the Natural Resources Committee, though no longer the chair, after Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., took over. Landrieu is from a state where timber is not a primary issue, but Wyden told the Oregonian he can still be influential on timber reform.

Wyden insists he’s still in position to push his legislation through Congress. “I’m still on the committee and I’ll be sitting next to Senator Landrieu,” he told The Oregonian editorial board.    

Still, the impact from Hastings' and Wyden's position changes can't be denied, according to a political scientist from the Portland area.

Wyden and Hastings have greatly influenced natural resource policy in the Northwest. Now that could change, said political scientist Jim Moore.

“The main thing that we’ll see is that the Northwest is not going to be on the front burner on these committees,” said Moore, political science professor at Pacific University. “When the chairmen leave, or when people who have a lot of seniority leave a committee, then all of the sudden, the things that were issues back home leave with them.”

Issues like dam removal and forestry legislation.

Moore, the political scientist, adds that Wyden could have his own unique impact as the chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

(Moore) said federal dollars for Northwest natural resources programs may actually be easier to come by, with Wyden on the Finance Committee. That’s because Wyden may still be able to influence Northwest natural resource policy through his oversight of federal tax and revenue policies.

“There are big, giant issues that could have a big impact on energy policy; they could have an impact on access to public lands; they could have an impact on how people relate to public lands, by tinkering with tax policy or by talking about how the budget works in different ways,” Moore said.

Hastings' absence is more difficult, because unlike Wyden, Hastings is leaving Congress. Already, a crowded field of Republicans have announced they will run this fall to succeed Hastings in the Fourth Congressional District, which includes Yakima and the Tri-Cities. Because of the political nature of the district, Hastings' replacement will likely be a Republican, but one without his clout.

Nonetheless, the crowded campaign to replace the congressman "could be a dogfight," a Republican activist told the Yakima Herald Republic this week. 

There will also a separate fight in D.C. to see who takes over as head of the House Natural Resources Committee. The post will be filled by a Republican because the House is in firm Republican control, but which Republican?

The Kitsap Sun this week took a look at that question (subscriber-only) and put forth several candidates. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, told the Sun that no matter who is the head of the committee, natural-resource issues important to the Northwest should still be pursued.

"There are some core priorities that impact our area," said Kilmer. "Recovering Puget Sound. Having a responsible approach to the management of federal forests. Ensuring that we make progress for the Native American tribes in our region. Addressing ocean acidification and threats to the shellfish industry.

"Regardless of who chairs the committee, we need to make progress on these issues. What's more, those issues should neither be partisan issues nor should they only be the concerns of folks in our state. I look forward to working with whoever next chairs the committee."