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Why this Republican agrees with Merkley

I’m a lifelong union electrician and a Republican, and I did not vote for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. But what Merkley said in the Mail Tribune recently opposing the proposed fracked gas pipeline and export terminal at Coos Bay made a whole lot of sense to me.

I was born in Coos County and have lived on Oregon’s south coast my whole life.

My dad was an electrician and local president of one of the building and construction trades unions, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). I’ve had the privilege to follow in his footsteps and served as the local IBEW president myself for six years. I worked for Georgia Pacific in the paper industry, and our family also operated a small business.

Everyone who works in the building and construction trades wants to build things that benefit communities and don’t cause harm.

That’s why I agree with Merkley that there is a better way to create jobs and strengthen our economy in Southern Oregon than to let a Canadian company put a 229-mile fracked gas pipeline across our land along with an extremely hazardous liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in an earthquake and tsunami zone here in Coos Bay.

One of the world’s biggest earthquakes in history is already hundreds of years overdue. When it happens it would not only create its own damage but also a massive tsunami. The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries recently raised serious concerns about the LNG project’s earthquake safety analysis. Why would we let an out-of-state company add a huge, miles-wide, explosive fire danger to our rural areas just so they can make a quick buck?

The pipeline would cross the land and affect the property values of hundreds of Oregon landowners, with the threat of eminent domain held over their heads if they don't accept a small, one-time payment from the company. I know that was a major reason the Jackson County commissioners voted to oppose this project. It’s been disappointing to me that Republican commissioners from other counties have sided with this Canadian company instead of local landowners.

Since I was a kid, there have been jobs here in Coos County from fishing, clamming and oyster farming. What would happen to those jobs when the bay is disturbed by construction and operation of this export terminal?

Some people point to the new jobs that would be created in the short run, but I know from experience that the great majority of the work would be done by people who come from outside the area. We would be stuck with negative impacts and costs, while most of the benefits go back to their home communities.

Some people also claim that exporting fracked gas to Asia would somehow help reduce the climate disruption we are experiencing in Oregon and throughout the world. But as Merkley said, the opposite is true. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change on our oyster and salmon harvests and our farms, ranches, and forests. I agree with Merkley that the price of climate disruption “will go up exponentially if we don’t rapidly transition from fossil fuels to clean and renewable sources.” Renewable energy sources are creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.

Jeff Merkley, the son of a millwright, was born in Douglas County, one of the Oregon counties that this pipeline would cross. As he said, there is a better way to create jobs for the long-term by investing “in building the enormous backlog of infrastructure projects that will improve our state and nation, not damage it. We can energize our construction economy by building desperately needed drinking and wastewater systems; improved bridges, roads, docks, jetties and rail; electric lines; and rural broadband.”

I see on his website that he has walked that walk by successfully sponsoring legislation in Congress that directed millions of dollars in funding to small communities in Oregon to maintain and improve ports and to help finance safe drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects. He also successfully sponsored the Rural Energy Savings program that provides low-cost loans to support jobs making homes and businesses more energy-efficient.

It was great to see Senator Merkley speak out for creating jobs the right way and for public safety, the rights of landowners and protecting our rural quality of life. I hope Gov. Kate Brown and our other elected officials at the local, state and federal level will do the same.

— Bill McCaffree is a recently retired union electrician and lifelong resident of Coos County.