Representative Greg Walden addressing his CD2 constituents in Central Medford H.S. Auditorium.
Photo by Dasja Dolan, displayed with permission.
Perceptions from the Greg Walden Townhall held on January 18th at Central Medford High School by Alan Journet
Every now and then Oregon Congressional District 2 Representative Greg Walden visits Southern Oregon to meet constituents in a format where all residents are invited with more than five minutes notice. Friday January 18th was one of those rare occasions. Rep. Walden was greeted at Central Medford High School Auditorium by a mixed crowd of supporters and critics, though the latter seemed to hold the upper hand in questioning. Less raucous and definitely more circumspect than the last time Walden visited for a crack-of-dawn Townhall at North Medford H.S. two years ago, the audience seemed to contain equal parts Walden supporters and opponents, but a distinct shortage of Trump ‘Make American Great Again’ hats – maybe a sign of the times and a measure of public exhaustion with this White House occupant.
During the free-wheeling hour plus of q/a Walden by turns bewildered and bemused the audience with a mix of out and out Trump endorsement including a pronouncement supporting the claim that a surge of immigrants attempting to cross the southern border constituted a national security threat and justified the need for a wall, which Walden claimed everyone supported just a few years ago. Such Trump endorsements were scattered among claims of independence from Trump as exemplified by his voting to open the government and voting to oppose the lifting of sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Specific questions targeted such issues as the need for affordable housing, the mythical need for military intervention around the world, and fire policy. During a discussion of the Trump shutdown, Walden seemed to endorse the usual array of Trump nonsense about the threats at the southern border, and decry the fact that Democratic Party leaders were not even in the country but were in Puerto Rico partying instead of negotiating (Yes! He really did identify Puerto Rico as ‘not even in the country’).
SOCAN Co-facilitator Alan Journet from Jacksonville was one of the early questioners called. He asked the following question: “This President rejected the dire conclusions of the 2018 National Climate Assessment Report produced by leading scientists in 13 of his own agencies. Meanwhile, the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated that in order to hold global warming to below 1.5 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial conditions by 2100, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030. Thank you for acknowledging global warming as a contributor to our increasing fire risk but what are you advocating that would promote the 45% GHG emissions reduction we need?” In response, Rep Walden pointed out the carbon emissions in the U.S. have been dropping. When asked by Journet to focus on greenhouse gases rather than just carbon, Representative Walden indicated that he would, though it was evident from subsequent comments that he was not willing or able to make this transition, maybe thinking that the terms ‘carbon’ and ‘greenhouse gases’ are synonyms. He continued by arguing that our carbon emissions have been dropping thanks to the conversion of coal-fired power plants to natural gas. When Journet pointed out that because of the fugitive emissions of methane, natural gas is as bad as, or worse than, coal, Walden rejected that reality. It was evident that Representative Walden, while claiming to accept climate science, essentially does not understand what greenhouse gases are or from where they come. During his extensive and rambling reply, Representative Walden offered no response to the request for steps he was advocating that would achieve the necessary goal. While Walden approves promoting renewable energy, including geothermal, he also supports nuclear energy arguing that the problem of radioactive waste is the only issue and that this can be resolved. Rather than address the question, Rep. Walden focused on how other nations – notably India and China – are not achieving the goals they established for themselves as part of the Paris Agreement as though that absolves the U.S. from meeting our goals. There was no mention of how this nation, under Trump, has totally abdicated its effort to promote the reduction of emissions. Apparently, Representative Walden does not realize that other nations are actually making much more concerted efforts to reduce their emissions by promoting renewable energy than is the United States.
A subsequent question by Southern Oregon Citizens Climate Lobby leader Sherrill Rinehart again raised the issue of global warming with Representative Walden, asking him if he would endorse the CCL bipartisan proposal introduced in the closing weeks of the 2018 session known as House Resolution 7173: The Innovative Energy and Carbon Dividend Act. Apparently, Representative Walden was not familiar with this proposal. Nevertheless, his response was that he opposes proposals that would regulate or impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, arguing for voluntary measure without acknowledging that voluntary measures have simply failed to place the nation on the emissions reduction trajectory necessary to achieve meaningful goals. Sherrill underlined that the fee and dividend approach is supported by the Climate Leadership Council, a largely conservative group of business leaders, an argument that left Representative Walden unmoved..
The conclusion I draw from Representative Walden’s response to the climate change questions is that he claims to accept the basic science but simply does not understand it well enough to engage in rational conversation about the issue, and is firmly committed to doing nothing to address the problem. In fact, the positions he advocates seem more likely to increase emissions rather than decrease them.
In response to questions about forest management, Representative Walden naturally resorted to touting his efforts to promote a different parcel of forest management tactics. As mentioned above, it is to his credit that he acknowledged the potential role of global warming in exacerbating the forest fire problem and that he acknowledged the impacts of fire suppression on increasing tree density in the forests – thus suggesting that forest thinning could be a reasonable response. However, at no stage did he recognize that we in Southern Oregon live in a Mediterranean climate where forests are fire prone, fire adapted, and fire dependent, meaning fire is an inevitable and essential component in the system if we wish to retain healthy forests. He also again resorted to the notion of promoting salvage logging of burned forests (essentially clear-cutting) rather than allowing the recovering forest to recover. Walden also advocated for the replacement of these salvage logged forests with plantations, without accepting that plantations are fire traps and that replacing forests with plantations actually increases fire risk. Representative Walden also promoted a USGS report that the California wildfires resulted in huge carbon dioxide emissions. Apparently Representative Walden is either unaware of, or ignores, data on wildfire-induced emissions in Oregon that reveal the emissions of carbon dioxide from fires in this state amount to a very small 6% of statewide In-Boundary emissions reported by the state Department of Environmental Quality while emissions due to tree harvesting represent the largest sector of state emissions, exceeding transportation. In promoting the anecdotal claims that the forest service has a track record of not extinguishing fires which is contrary to that of the Oregon Department of Forestry, Representative Walden again displayed his commitment to unverified, unsubstantiated anecdotal nonsense to support his position.
During the discussion of forest fire issues, Representative Walden projected a slide depicting two pie charts: one indicated that among fire ignitions on public forest lands in Oregon, 50% occur on state lands and 50% on federal (also labeled Forest Service) lands, while only 5% of the public forest land burned is on state owned, land and 95% is on federal (FS) land. Of course, what Walden failed to note is that fully 95% of the publicly owned forest in Oregon is federally owned (with 75% as Forest Service and 20% as BLM land). Although the definition of what was meant (federal or FS) land was unclear, the data on land ownership mean either that area burned in state and federal lands is identical to the ownership proportions or very close to it. This means there is no significant difference. However, if the data on fire ignitions are accurate, the unlikely implication is that federal land (95% of the ownership but only 50% of ignitions) is better managed to avoid ignitions than the state land (5% of ownership but 50% of ignitions). This is improbable and provokes the more likely interpretation that many ignitions on federal land are simply undetected. This would mean the argument Walden was making was totally unsupported by the data on which he was basing it. Whether the interpretation offered by Representative Walden constitutes conscious misrepresentation of the data (‘fake news / alternative facts?’) or simply a complete though honest failure to understand what the data really mean remains unclear.
During his response to a questioner regarding the Southern Border wall, Representative Walden repeated the standard Trump and Republican claim that leading Democrats supported a wall before Trump became President. In its fact check on this claim PolitiFact rated it ‘Mostly False.’ The reference is to the Secure Fence Act of 2006 that authorized funding for a 700 mile fence that is now in place but which Trump mocked during his campaign as a ‘nothing wall.’ In fact, rather than opposing what they previously supported, Democrats actually approved current funding for the fence approved in 2006.
Overall, this was a very disappointing display by Representative Walden. It suggested a politician who is either not well informed, or is simply misinformed on the issues. Either way, this does not reflect well on either the Representative of his advisory staff.