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Timber, Water Important Issues For NW GOP Voters

GOP 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 want to hear about other natural resources, too, like timber and water.

EarthFix reporter Bonnie Stewart has the story.

Republicans in the Pacific Northwest say they want more control of the region’s natural bounty.

Greg Leo, the chief of staff for Oregon’s Republican Party talked about the environment recently during the Republicans’ Dorchester Conference.

“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.”

Timber is a touchy subject in the Pacific Northwest, where the federal government controls a lot of forest land. There’s an ongoing debate about how much forest to preserve and how much to harvest.

Leo said, “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’s many places in rural Oregon that really have been economically depressed for as long as the forests have been locked up.”

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.”

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 to collapse worldwide.

Oregon timber man 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,” he said.

VanAtta is a Republican. He and his family have been harvesting timber from their private land since 1966.

VanAtta says he needs the next president to speed up the country’s economic recovery.

“If you’re not doing a lot of construction, there’s not a lot of need for timbers,” he said.

Greg Leo thinks even forest waste could play a role in energy independence.

Leo explained, “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.”

State Republican party platforms in the Pacific Northwest mirror many of the candidates’ views. They call for fewer federal regulations and more state control of land and water.

Sally MacLeod is the president of the Oregon Federation of Republican Women. She 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.

She said, “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.”

Water quantity is important, but water quality is another issue.

Mitt 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.

Newt Gingrich says he’ll do away with the EPA and create what he would call the Environmental Solutions Agency.

Rick Santorum has said more about air quality than water quality. He says he would repeal the EPA rule on carbon dioxide emissions.

And Ron 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,” said Portland Republican Patrick Donaldson.

Donaldson works for a company involved in business continuity.

Donaldson said, “Now the devil’s in the details about what does that mean and what price do we pay for either not having clean water or by having clean water.”

Donaldson 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 and other Oregon Republicans will have a chance to choose a presidential candidate in May, when Oregon holds its primary.

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