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Merkley talks water, jobs during Portland visit

U.S. Senator discusses issues on local swing

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley is prepared to fully the support the Portland City Council if it chooses to request a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's requirement to replace the city's five open reservoirs.

'I am fully prepared to jump into this fight,' Merkley told the Portland Tribune during a Wednesday afternoon visit.

The EPA has said that all cities must cover of replace their open reservoirs to comply with the so-called LT2 rule. Portland has been moving to build new underground storage tanks to replace the reservoirs in Mt. Tabor and Washington parks.

But on Aug. 19, the EPA told New York U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer it would review whether New York City needed to comply with the rule. Schumer had complained about the city's cost of complying with the rule, saying it was not justified.

In response, Portland Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff wrote to the Oregon Health Authority Aug. 23 requesting a delay in the city's compliance schedule until the New York situation is resolved. The Health Authority is enforcing the EPA rule in Oregon.

Shaff did not request a waiver from the rule, however, Instead, in his letter to David Leland, manager of the Health Authority's drinking water program, Shaff wrote, 'Once the EPA's review is complete and Portland is given the opportunity to explore any alternative compliance methods that may become available, the City will propose a detailed amended schedule for compliance with the rule.'

'As soon as Portland decides what it wants to do, I will support them,' Merkley said.

Merkley also said he hopes President Obama will embrace his proposal for a national home weatherization program in his upcoming jobs speech. President Obama has requested a joint session of Congress for 8 p.m. on Sept. 7 to deliver a speech on jobs and the deficit. Merkley has proposed a national program modeled after the ones in Portland and Oregon that loan homeowners weathertization funds repaid through their utility bills.

'All of the labor and products are here in this country and cannot be outsourced. Economists agree such a program is the way to help the economy,' Merkley said.