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Oregon Sen. Merkley Hoping For More 'Climate Champions' In Texas After Harvey


A man carries items in a neighborhood still flooded from Harvey on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017, in Houston. Some neighborhoods around Houston remain flooded and thousands of people have been displaced by torrential rains and catastrophic flooding since Harvey slammed into Southeast Texas last week.

A man carries items in a neighborhood still flooded from Harvey on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017, in Houston. Some neighborhoods around Houston remain flooded and thousands of people have been displaced by torrential rains and catastrophic flooding since Harvey slammed into Southeast Texas last week.

Gregory Bull/AP

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, one of the top congressional supporters of taking big steps to combat climate change, says the latest extreme weather should increase public awareness of the dangers of a warming planet.

“We’re seeing the impact from the hurricane coming in through Houston and  the very dry conditions in Oregon [worsening] the fires,” Merkley said in an interview Monday in Portland.  “If it hasn’t been obvious before to individuals that we’re facing a major challenge with climate disruption, it should be obvious now.

Merkley said Hurricane Sandy in 2012 helped increase congressional support among northeastern legislators to combat climate change and to make communities better able to withstand natural disasters.

“So I’m suddenly hoping now we’ll have some huge climate champions from Texas,” Merkley said while attending a Labor Day picnic sponsored by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council.

Merkley said that while there is increased congressional support for his climate initiatives, the main priority now should be delivering aid to flood victims.

On a personal level, Merkley said he was foiled by smoke from the fires when he and his wife, Mary Sorteberg, recently tried to hike portions of the Pacific Crest Trail. First, he said, they were prevented from hiking in Southern Oregon and then they were foiled again by the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge when they tried to enter the trail from Cascade Locks.

In his interview, the Democratic senator also played down the significance of an op-ed he authored in The Des Moines Register on Friday, which some saw as another sign that he’s interested in running for president in 2020.  The Register is the largest newspaper in Iowa, which is the first state to vote in the presidential primary calendar.

Merkley said it should only be taken as an indication that he was invited to be one of the out-of-state speakers next Saturday at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed, an annual fundraiser for a statewide liberal advocacy group.

“For me, 2020 is a long ways away,” Merkley said.  “I’m just focused on helping out working people and progressive groups around the country.

He said it would be “fair enough” to say that he has neither ruled in nor ruled out a race for the presidency. 

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