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Oregon congressman wants stimulus bill to include public lands
[December 18, 2008]

Oregon congressman wants stimulus bill to include public lands

(Register-Guard, The (Eugene, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dec. 17--As Congress crafts an economic stimulus bill for President-elect Barack Obama's signature in January, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio wants to be sure it includes billions of dollars to pay for a backlog of projects on public lands and national parks.

DeFazio, a Springfield Democrat, said Tuesday that such spending will benefit rural communities that rely heavily on natural resource industries.

"We're really hoping to be able to target some substantial investments in our public resources and put people back to work in rural areas," he said in an interview. "I'm hoping the stimulus package will be much more tied to investments and projects that put people to work with good wages and benefits."

DeFazio spoke at his district office in Eugene, dressed in snow-day casual. His 12-year-old dog, Dewey, snoozed by his side.

Members of Congress are working behind the scenes to develop an economic stimulus package that they could pass soon after Obama takes office Jan. 20. The price tag is a moving target, but DeFazio said the last he's heard, the House version is approaching $250 billion.

"This money is going to be borrowed," he said. "We're indebting future generations, so I think as much as possible we should spend in ways that will continue to provide benefits throughout their lifetimes," rather than sending out tax rebates.

DeFazio said there's plenty of work to be done on public lands and in national parks. In a letter he'll be sending to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and key committee leaders, DeFazio identified some of the spending that would benefit rural communities:

The National Park Service has a maintenance backlog on its roads, bridges, trails and structures of between $6 billion and $13 billion.

The U.S. Forest Service has $5.7 billion worth of projects involving road maintenance and decommissioning, and $4 billion is needed to rebuild culverts for fish passage.

Other agencies, including the bureaus of Land Management, Reclamation and Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, have various projects that need funding.

And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a backlog of projects that include major jetty repairs at Coos Bay that need funding, he said.

In addition, DeFazio said he would like Congress to spend $500 million over two years to establish the National Forest Watershed Restoration Corps, which would create up to 3,500 highly skilled jobs in resource-dependent communities next to public lands. He described it as a "small-scale, temporary variation on the Civilian Conservation Corps" to help get some of the backlogged projects completed.

On another major economic issue confronting the nation, DeFazio said that while he strongly opposed the $700 billion bailout of the financial services industry, he supported a bill to provide $14 billion in bridge loans to U.S. automakers Chrysler and General Motors. The auto bailout bill passed the House but died in the Senate last week. The White House is on the verge of getting a bailout to automakers using money from the other, $700 billion bailout, according to news reports.

"It's probably cheaper to give them a bridge loan, as long as we do everything we can to protect the taxpayers, than it is to let them go into bankruptcy," he said.

Under the plan negotiated by Congress, the White House, automakers and unions, Chrysler and GM would have to develop credible plans for retooling by March 31, or be forced to pay back the loans.

"It's the best we could do to protect taxpayers in this environment," he said. "There are credible economists out there who say if one of the big auto manufacturers goes down, goes into liquidation, that we will have a manufacturing, real-economy Armageddon," he added. "It will cascade through the economy and reverberate in ways that no one can predict -- and it will be really bad.

"It's an investment that's risky," he said, but doing nothing "is a chance we can't afford to take."

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