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Senator talks pipeline, president

Senator Jeff Merkley told a crowd of about 400 that individuals' grassroots efforts played a role in Republicans' withdrawal of health care legislation.

"Grassroots America defeated Trumpcare," Merkley said to a roaring crowd at his town hall meeting Saturday at the South Medford High School Gymnasium, which largely filled the gymnasium. Merkley called the turnout "some sort of record."

The meeting touched on a wide range of issues including the environment, immigration reform and health care, but Merkley drew standing ovations when he mentioned efforts to investigate the presidential campaign's ties to Russia and efforts to reign in the president's "authoritarianism" — citing examples such as the president's dismissal of reliable news sources, something he called "incompatible with our 'We the People' government."

Regarding the Russian investigation, Merkley told the crowd that the investigation hasn't yet shown a direct conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but if such a link were found, it would be "treasonous conduct."

A rare moment of discord followed after Ollie Bucolo of Ashland's questioned the senator on his stance on the proposed 262-mile pipeline to a Coos County Liquid Natural Gas export facility. Bucolo said he couldn't get a "definitive answer" from Senator Ron Wyden at a previous town hall, and hoped for something more substantial from Merkley.

"Can you say, definitively, whether you are for or against the Jordan Cove pipeline?" Bucolo asked.

"I'm not going to make you any more happy than you were before," Merkley replied to boos before touching on promises from organizers of the project that resonated with him. The application is set to be refiled in September after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a previous proposal last year.

"They said, 'We're going to use renewable energy to power that (LNG) plant, so it's not a huge producer of dangerous carbon dioxide,' " Merkley said. "And the second thing they said is that they weren't planning to use eminent domain."

Merkley said those are factors that Veresen, the Canadian energy company behind the project, "ought to cleave to."

On Friday, however, Merkley issued a statement voicing opposition to the State Department's approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project, calling it an "unacceptable assault on anyone who cares about clean water and a livable planet."

Property owners Ron Schaaf and Deb Evans, of the Greensprings, who own property directly affected by the proposed pipeline, carried visible signs in opposition to the project, such as a poster reading "Make Canada Great Again."

"You can't have a position of 'keep it in the ground' and be in favor of Jordan Cove," Schaaf said. "It's inconsistent."

Schaaf said he believed trade unions in Portland were weighing his decision.

After the town hall, Lisa Shunn of Medford said she understood the senator's position, even if she didn't agree with it.

"I liked his answer, to be honest," Shunn said. "I still don't want a pipeline beneath the Rogue River, but he represents everybody.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley holds a town hall meeting at South Medford on Saturday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]