Skip to main content

Bentz Named Top Republican on Water Subcommittee

February 19, 2021

Representative Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) has had anything but a normal first few weeks in office.

Continuing with the theme, he was just named the ranking Republican on the House natural resources subcommittee on water, oceans and wildlife — a rare appointment for someone in their freshman term.

“I am honored to serve as the leading Republican voice (on the committee) and I thank the committee’s ranking member, Bruce Westerman, for this opportunity,” Bentz said in a statement. “For more than half of my professional and political career, I have stood up and fought for agriculture and communities that rely on our water resources.”

Bentz, who has been a ranch and water lawyer for decades, said he looks forward to applying his experience to legislative activities on the subcommittee. It counts within its jurisdiction federal irrigation projects, hydropower, fishery management and drought response, among many others. Bentz said he’ll likely interact with a great deal of legislation affecting the Klamath Basin in the role.

“There’s lots of points of contact between this committee and the activities inside the Basin,” he told the Herald and News.

In a statement, Bentz painted himself as an opponent of dam removal, though he said he hasn’t picked a side yet when it comes to the Klamath River. He promised to keep listening to communities that have a stake in the issue as conversations come up.

“My job is to represent people,” he said. “It’s not to make some knee-jerk decision.”

Bentz does oppose any removal of four dams on the Snake River, legislation for which would likely pass through his committee. He previously mentioned to the Herald and News concerns that dam removal on the Klamath could set a precedent for that project on the Snake.

The Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, which outlines the plan for dam removal, isn’t tied to federal legislation, so it’s unclear the role Bentz and Congress could play in the project as it moves through permitting.

Bentz said he’s looking forward to meeting Representative Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the subcommittee’s chair and a supporter of the dam removal project. On working with Democrats in general, he said he’ll draw on experience in Oregon serving on the state’s water resources commission.

“The trick to successfully negotiating anything is to know the people you’re working with,” Bentz said.

Bentz had previously expressed interest in the transportation and infrastructure committee, through which he would have directed investments into federal irrigation infrastructure, but he said natural resources was his first choice.

The congressman said he hopes to work with fellow Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, chair of the transportation and infrastructure committee, on making sure water infrastructure is included in their legislation.

Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said he was pleased to welcome Bentz to a leadership role on the subcommittee, citing his legal expertise as an asset.

“While he is new to Congress, Congressman Bentz is not new to this subject matter. He brings a wide array of personal experiences and expertise as a water rights attorney to the table, and I know this will equip him to be a strong and thoughtful voice on water-related issues,” Westerman said in a statement. “As we begin this new Congress, I believe we have the best possible team ready to take on any challenge and show Americans that conservation is inherently conservative.”

The Oregon Farm Bureau and other irrigators in the state praised Bentz’s appointment.

“He has long been a champion for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers in the state legislature, and he will bring his extensive expertise on water issues to the national level,” said OFB President Barb Iverson in a statement.

Bentz said he has a lot of learning ahead of him — he expects to spend a great deal of time reading up on the subcommittee’s past activities and its capacity for future legislation. He hopes to assure his constituents that having him in this post will keep the interests of Oregon’s Second Congressional District at the forefront.

“They’re going to have a voice — an experienced, knowledgeable voice — at the table negotiating, arguing and fighting for Oregon and Klamath water,” he said.