- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle quietly slipped into a spending bill language exempting his home state of South Dakota from environmental regulations and lawsuits, in order to allow logging in an effort to prevent forest fires.
The move discovered yesterday by fellow lawmakers angered Western legislators whose states were forced to obey those same rules as they battled catastrophic wildfires.
"What's good for the Black Hills should be good for every forest in the United States," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
Mr. Daschle, a Democrat, said the language to expedite logging is essential to reduce the timber growth that can fuel wildfires.
"As we have seen in the last several weeks, the fire danger in the Black Hills is high and we need to get crews on the ground as soon as possible to reduce this risk and protect property and lives," Mr. Daschle said in a statement late Monday night after a House-Senate conference committee agreed on the language.
The language was tucked inside the defense supplemental spending bill, which passed the House last night by a 397-32 vote. The overall measure, which spends $29 billion, will be taken up by the Senate today.
The provision says that "due to extraordinary circumstances," timber activities will be exempt from the National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act, is not subject to notice, comment or appeal requirements under the Appeals Reform Act, and is not subject to judicial review by any U.S. court.
More than 20 lawsuits, appeals or reviews are blocking timber projects to remove fuel from the Black Hills some bottled up in bureaucracy since 1985, say Republican aides.
"After hearing all the hand-wringing from environmentalists downplaying the impact of appeals and litigation, it's nice to see that the highest-ranking Democrat in the nation agrees that these frivolous challenges have totally crippled forest managers," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health.
Mr. Daschle said his measure is the "fastest and most effective way to get the forest thinned."
"To be effective, any piece of legislation must be crafted in a way that avoids more time-consuming litigation, and this deal should meet that critical test," Mr. Daschle said.
House and Senate Republicans signaled they would try to extend the exemptions to forests in their own states.
"He should expect that and he should support it," Mr. Craig said.
More than 50,000 fires have torched 3.7 million acres this summer, the National Interagency Fire Center reported yesterday.
"It will be interesting indeed to find out if what's good for Mr. Daschle's goose is also good for the West's gander. We intend to find out," Mr. McInnis said.
Environmental groups oppose timber cutting as a form of fire prevention, and some groups contend that logging activities constitute the sort of human actions that cause forest fires.
"It's like giving people the mumps vaccine during a measles outbreak because you don't have a measles vaccine," said Jeff Kessler, spokesman for the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.
"You appear to be doing something that matters, when instead all you are doing is eroding the rule of law," Mr. Kessler said.
The provision to allow logging in the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve and Beaver Park was first included in the farm bill by Rep. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson for his seat in November.
It was killed by Mr. Daschle and Mr. Johnson under pressure from environmental groups, congressional aides said.
"They caved to the national environmental groups during the farm bill and got destroyed back home because of it, so they really didn't have any choice but to join Mr. Thune," one Republican aide said.
The Biodiversity Conservation Alliance opposes logging in the Black Hills and is threatening to sue to stop such activities.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, where more than a half-million acres have been destroyed by fire, said the process should have been open and the solution available to all states in a "tinderbox situation."
"It certainly can only be described as blatant hypocrisy on behalf of the Senate leader to claim on one hand to be the champion of the environment and then on the other hand to cut a special deal for his home state," Mr. Hayworth said.
"What he is proving today is that true environmentalists are willing to have effective forest management. This is a classic case of somebody saying one thing for political posturing, and doing another for public policy," Mr. Hayworth said.
"We're trying to rebound from the worst fires in our history hundreds of homes, thousands of lives shattered we're on emergency footing in the White Mountains of Arizona trying to rebuild people's lives," Mr. Hayworth said.
"Believe me, if we had the option to take advantage of this for Arizona, you better believe we would have."

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