Congress delivers major win for crabbers

The Dungeness crab industry will benefit from bipartisan legislation approved by Congress.

While forlorn Republican U.S. senators and representatives returned home last week for the long August congressional recess after failing to repeal or replace Obamacare, our region’s congressional delegation chalked up a big bipartisan win for fishermen. And despite a pervading air of dysfunction in Congress, there is solid cooperation between the parties in support of several other important legislative proposals aimed at issues ranging from improving rural cell phone service to curing the widespread national shortage of affordable housing.

Lower Columbia River communities are thankful for bipartisan work led by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA-3) to make the Tri-State Agreement a permanent fixture of West Coast fisheries management. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) cosponsored the bill. In addition to Herrera-Beutler, Olympic Peninsula Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6) carried the legislation in the House.

The Tri-State Agreement is one of the most important West Coast fishery laws, but one that relatively few know about, even here where it underpins a crucial part of our economy. Working together since 1998 under auspices of federal law, the crabbers and managers of Oregon, Washington and California have created a “sustainable, science-based fishery management program that keeps fishermen fishing and crab stocks thriving,” in the words of Cantwell’s office. This isn’t mere political puffery — in an industry that has little use for regulators, Tri-State’s collaborative model gives knowledgeable crabbers a direct role in ensuring the future of the crab resource and the thousands of rural jobs tied to it.

Local crab industry leader Dale Beasley observed, “This is a MAJOR victory for West Coast coastal fish/water dependent communities and adds much needed economic stability for future generations of fishermen to help them thrive. Everyone that worked on this Dungeness Crab Act needs to be congratulated, but especially Jamie for grabbing the reins and leading the effort to get this bill through the House initially. What was so amazing about that achievement was that the head of the House fisheries subcommittee was from Louisiana where the most opposition and two-year hold on the bill came from on the Senate side. Sen. Cantwell had to be quite tenacious to be ever persistent to eventually shepherd the DCA through the Senate [where it] was being held hostage over red fish allocations in the Gulf of Mexico, with roots growing like moon vine in big oil. AMAZING!”

Making the agreement permanent will remove a lingering doubt about the federal government’s commitment to locally based governance of crab harvests and conservation. It will permit a more concentrated focus on the many other issues facing the fishery — everything from the acidifying ocean to competition with other industries for offshore areas.

In late July, Wyden cosponsored with a Republican colleague federal legislation aimed at cutting red tape that impedes public use of recreational lands. As reported by OPB, Wyden’s initiative envisions a number of common sense — and probably popular — steps like requiring agencies to sell passes and permits online, and work with states to create passes that cover both state and federal recreation areas.

Though mostly directed at the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be required to include recreational activities in its planning. In our region, corps assets like jetties already play an important but largely unacknowledged role in recreation.

Especially elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, where logging restrictions have decimated economies, making outdoor recreation easier is a laudable goal.

Yet another bipartisan congressional act was endorsed last month by Wyden and others. It would help build out cell service and wireless internet coverage throughout rural Oregon and other states.

The Rural Wireless Act of 2017 recognized that cell service is essential 21st century infrastructure that is essential for safety and economic development.

“Wireless coverage is essential for law enforcement and healthcare providers to respond quickly to life-and-death situations and for precision agriculture as well as small mom-and-pop businesses to communicate with their customers in the global economy,” Wyden said in a press release. “Simply put, the reliability of wireless coverage data maps must be improved for the safety and well-being of rural Oregonians.”

We all should join in supporting this sensible legislation. It’s encouraging to see the parties working together on it.

Sen. Cantwell is leading legislation, the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act, would expand the successful Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) and make important fixes to the program.

A shortage of supply and rising demand are pushing rents beyond affordable levels for many Americans, including here around the mouth of the Columbia River.

Under Cantwell’s proposal, cosponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ranking Member Sen. Wyden and 16 others, the expanded LIHTC would help create or preserve about 1.3 million affordable homes over a 10-year period — an increase of 400,000 more units than is possible under the current program. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the Cantwell-Hatch proposal would create an additional 452,000 jobs over the next 10 years supporting the construction of additional units.

All these initiatives show how much might be achieved when the parties in Congress work together whenever they can. Repairing Obamacare in mutually agreeable ways should be among their highest priorities.

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