By KELLY STILES | The Arkadelphian
A tornado watch in Clark County did not prevent U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman from speaking to a crowd of approximately 35 people during a Pop-Up Community Congressional Conversation at Dawson Education Service Cooperative on Thursday. From 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., the congressman spoke of his current service on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and as chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, as well as his excitement for changes coming to Clark County, such as the future arrival of Hostess.
“I’ve found myself eating more Hostess stuff,” Westerman said.
After having been introduced by Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Shelley Short, Westerman noted the significant impact that the upcoming Hostess Brands bakery will have on not only Clark County, but the entire region. The congressman believes that the new confectionery will be the start of new growth to the area.
In light of recent controversy surrounding the passing of the Arkansas LEARNS Act, Westerman pointed out that though he has no legislative say in the matter, he acknowledges that education and technical training is a key part to a successful society. He mentioned that his wife, Sharon, will experience the affects of the act first-hand as an educator.
“It is critical to give young people the tools they need,” Westerman said.
While on the subject of education, local Arkadelphia colleges Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University, as well as Arkansas State University Three Rivers in Malvern and Saline County Career and Technical Campus in Benton, were mentioned in regards to their great impact on the success of Arkansas.
The congressman shared how decisions made on a national level affect daily life in Clark County. As chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, Westerman is a part of decision-making regarding energy and mineral resources. He explained that the cost of natural gas affects the production costs of fertilizer, which affects the production costs of farming, which then affects the cost of food to Arkansans.
Westerman stressed the importance of keeping the mining and production of fossil fuels and other materials, such as steel and cobalt, in the United States. Not only would this keep wealth in the United States instead of sending money over seas, but American-produced resources can help illiminate injustice. According to Westerman, China currently drives the mining of cobalt in the Congo, where children are forced into labor. This same cobalt can be found in the average person’s smart phone. He mentioned that Smackover is home to one of the world’s largest lithium resources, run by Standard Lithium.
Forestry is also a focus of the Committee on Natural Resources. According to Westerman, the protection of sequoia trees has been a predominant topic of discussion since nearly a fifth of all giant sequoia trees were burned in a California lightning fire in 2021. The committee for this topic consisted of 25 republican representatives and 25 democrat.
“Necessity drives people to work together,” Westerman said.
An audience member prompted the discussion of using more renewable energy in United States, noting that nearly 98% of Costa Rica’s energy is solar, wind, and geothermal. The congressman with a 22-year engineering background discussed the short lifespan of an over 500 feet tall wind turbine, and that wind and solar power take up much more acreage than nuclear power. He later proposed the notion that renewable energy may be best collected on a local level.
Westerman described a discussion between himself and Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz. Scholz had plans of converting Germany’s energy sources to solely renewable, until the advent of the crisis in Ukraine. The chancellor decided that keeping a source of nuclear energy would be beneficial to the country in the face of neighboring uncertainty.
When asked about the Federal Trade Commission’s proposed rule on the ban of noncompete clauses in company contracts, the congressman admitted that he knew little about the proposal.
“Federal agencies are getting involved in things they shouldn’t be involved in,” Westerman said.
An audience member initiated discussion of how cross-laminated timber is now being used to make buildings up to 18-stories high, and according to Westerman, was used in the construction of new Walmart office buildings. Westerman previously noted that Arkansas’ district 4 is about 87% forest.
“We all win when the forests are healthy,” Westerman said.
Categories: Region & State