SMITH TARGETS ENERGY, EDUCATION ISSUES

July 03, 2001 12:00 am

Republican Sen. Gordon Smith told a group of more than 50 area residents that he will fight to maintain a reasonably priced and consistent source of energy to his Oregon constituency.

During a town hall meeting at Brookings City Hall on Monday morning, Smith addressed a series of issues, but the energy problem was of primary concern.

In addition to energy, other issues the first-term senator discussed included:

Environmentalism, and fishery and timber problems.

Missile defense systems.

The federal budget.

Prescription drug legislation.

Education.

He also discussed his perspective on government.

Our constitution limits government more than in any other country, Smith said. It gives us the ability to see the realization of our dreams.

As a principle, our country is better off if we leave more choices at home than in Washington, D.C. I dont want to see socialism in our country.

Thats why these town halls are important. It helps me to keep in touch, keep the connection with the people I serve. They need to be a part of the process.

On energy, Smith said Americans are receiving a wake-up call up because of the present power shortages and price increases.

We are in a blessed condition of taking for granted the gas in our cars, the power for our homes, he said. Now there is less available and its becoming more expensive.

Prices are going to go up, but I dont think extravagantly.

Smith promised that despite the effort of environmentalists, the hydroelectric dams in the Northwest would not be shut down at least not on his watch.

The environmentalist are even talking about taking out the hydroelectric dams. I cant believe how arrogant that is, he said. We cannot take out the main stem hydroelectric dams and expect electricity to be available and at an affordable price.

As long as Im your senator, they wont be taking out any dams and Im going to keep the lights on.

When asked about his stance on nuclear power, Smith said there are issues that need to be resolved before nuclear energy production can be expanded.

Europe and Japan get 70 percent of their electricity from nuclear plants, he said. The problem in America is the waste, its not resolved in the United States of America like it is in those countries. Its stacking up in the warehouses, in a neighborhood near you. There has been no decision on the depositories.

So its unlikely we will be building any new nuclear plants in the near future. But we will be refitting the old plants and getting them relicensed.

The bottom line: With nuclear energy we will be just getting some of the old plants back on line and we need to preserve the viability of the hydroelectric plants.

Smith said part of the energy solution has to lie in some form of control to guarantee consumers arent gouged.

Sen. (Dianne) Feinstein (D-Calif.) and I came together and produced a bill to prohibit unjust and unreasonable (utility) price increases, he said. I defend free enterprise every moment of every day, but I will not spend one moment to defend market piracy.

Its a matter of public safety, protecting the people. We need to encourage conservation, but at the end of the day, all of us need heat and light and fuel. Theyre essentials, not luxuries.

Thats why energy is a highly regulated industry.

In addressing the possibility of interconnecting marine reserves along the Pacific coast, Smith said environmental concerns have gotten out of hand.

Its the real tragedy of the last decade, he said. We have been beguiled into believing if we are using the land we are abusing the land. I dont believe that at all. Wise management of the land is not abjection.

The air has never been cleaner, the water purer than at any time Ive been alive. There has been a lot of good stewardship and conservation established in the last quarter century, but its not enough for some.

Smith said environmental extremists want to rid the earth of anyone who taps natural resources, then complain about the results.

They say we can do without farmers, ranchers, loggers, fishers, he said, then they complain when the jobs go overseas. Their policies are pushing jobs overseas.

We dont utilize our assets any more, and they are totally renewable. To what good purpose is that? Im frustrated.

The timber industry has been turned upside down by poor environmental policy, according to Smith, and the ramifications can be devastating.

These practices are detrimental to land and fisheries, he said. Good management practices could reverse that trend.

Trees are still growing. There is more standing timber today in Oregon than when Lewis and Clark were here. We have good silvaculture practices cut one tree, plant three.

Im actually concerned with the limited harvesting. Combined with the drought conditions in the state, I hope that we dont go up (in flames) like Montana did last year.

Smith said he is working to make enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) a local issue versus national.

I have reintroduced ESA reform that is modest, he said. It would impose scientific data to peer review.

At the end of the day we want to improve the environment, but we need to engage local people in the process and utilize science that makes the people comfortable.

We need to empower things locally, not discourage them. We need these decisions to be helpful not hurtful. They need to be incentive based instead of compulsory.

Extracting the oil beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, on the agenda of President Bushs administration, will remain in a holding pattern for the near future, Smith said.

There is not the support in Congress to pass ANWR into a status where the energy resource can be tapped, he said. There is no doubt that there is a lot of oil there, even under the most conservative estimates.

But the good news (the oil) is not going anywhere. Technology is improving to where I hope we can get the oil without going into ANWR.

For national security, we cant be so dependent on foreign oil. We need to find a balance of supplying energy and protecting the environment.

In discussing another national security issue, Smith said Americas defense system is essential, but the present character of world conflict needs to be kept in mind.

Our next conflict could be in the Straits of Taiwan or Tel Aviv, he said. We have a new enemy people who think they will go to heaven by killing an American or a Jew.

We cant leave our country defenseless.

The senator said deployment of proven missile defense systems needs to continue and it remains necessary to look for more modern technologies to protect the nation.

Theater missile defense does work, and I wont stand in the way of researching space-based missile defense, but we will need more answers before we deploy anything of that magnitude.

But to ignore the research of a (space-based) system would be in contradiction to the mandate of the constitution. Im not going to waste your money, but I believe we need to continue testing.

Im proud we have a president who doesnt tie our hands and wants to protect our country.

Smith said the recently passed federal budget is a continued step in the right direction for the nation.

We passed the budget, we are paying down the national debt whats legally possible, we are reviving Social Security, and we are providing tax relief that although being phased in slowly will show a benefit to taxpayers this summer when you get a refund check in the mail, he said. The economy needs a shot in the arm. By cutting interest rates and cutting taxes we hope to make this economic downturn as brief as possible.

Smith defended the tax cuts and criticized those who give credit to the Clinton administration for balancing the budget.

I will defend the tax cuts proudly, he said. Let my opponents attack me on that and I will win.

The GOP (Republican Party) forced the balanced budget on (former-President) Clinton. If we had left the surplus to our opponents it would have been squandered.

Medical issues are a priority for this Congress, according to Smith.

We have passed a patients bill of rights, he said. Too many insurance companies are practicing medicine and we need to redress the balance. Ultimately, a bill will be signed by this fall.

Smith said ensuring mature Americans have reasonable access to needed medicine is a priority.

I am working with Sen. (Ron) Wyden (R- Ore.) to have prescription medicine coverage added to Medicare. We need to make prescriptions available to seniors. Too many seniors are having to chose between food and taking medicine.

But we dont need to turn prescription drugs into another (federal) bureaucracy, but we need to provide an alternative to make them available to all senior citizens.

Smith said Congress has worked hard to pass comprehensive education legislation to guarantee education for our children in the future.

The biggest surprise for Smith since his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996 has been his relationship with Wyden.

My colleague Sen. Wyden and I, even though hes from a different political party and sometimes being contentious opponents, have become good friends, he said. We have learned to work together on issues important to the state.

On the lighter side, Smith told those attending the town hall meeting he had four powers as a senator.

I can vote to pass laws, he said. I can vote to pass treaties, and I can vote to pass budgets.

And I can harass bureaucracy on your behalf.