- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's waiver of environmental laws for a South Dakota logging project shows how much he wants to protect his vulnerable Democratic colleague, the Republican challenger's campaign said this week.
"It's an example of Senator Daschle once again having to come to the aid of Senator Tim Johnson, who has been clearly and consistently on the wrong side of forest issues," said Christine Iverson, campaign spokeswoman for Republican Rep. John Thune.
Environmental groups supporting Mr. Johnson's re-election campaign, and regularly attacking Mr. Thune, have been blamed for increasing the risk of fires in the Black Hills National Forest by preventing the removal of dead timber.
The deal worked out by Mr. Daschle, which was inserted into a spending bill recently, would permit the clearing of dead trees on 700 acres in the Black Hills and would exempt the agreement from environmental laws and legal appeals. Mr. Johnson supported the plan, and Mr. Thune voted for the final version.
Spokesmen for two major environmental lobbies said they supported the overall agreement but not the exemptions from environmental laws and court action.
"We don't, and we never have" supported such exemptions, said Sean Cosgrove, national forest policy specialist for the Sierra Club. "We agree on the settlement but not on the sufficiency language."
Many Sierra Club members are calling and e-mailing their organization with questions about the deal, according to a memo from President Carl Pope to Sierra Club leaders.
"As part of the congressional package to protect the new agreement from legal challenges that might slow down the fire prevention work further, Congress inserted sufficiency language," Mr. Pope said. "We thought it was a bad precedent and we opposed this provision."
A spokesman for Mr. Daschle said not everyone at the table received everything they wanted, but a consensus was reached in the end.
"As part of any successful negotiations, some groups are going to have to give up some things to get some things," Jay Carson said. "The important thing is they agreed to the final deal."
Mr. Thune, who was leading Mr. Johnson by three percentage points in the latest Republican poll, sponsored a provision earlier this year to allow removal of dead trees in the national forest.
It died in a House-Senate conference; Mr. Daschle said it didn't come up. Rep. Larry Combest, Texas Republican and Agriculture Committee chairman, said Mr. Daschle's staff failed to support the provision each of the three times it was raised.
Johnson campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said the deal has the approval of the Bush administration and is "the one that Tim Johnson has been advocating all along."
"John Thune wants to use the prospect of forest fires as a campaign issue more than he wants a solution," Mr. Pfeiffer said. "Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle worked for the only possible way to get the timber removed quickly a negotiated settlement."
The South Dakota race is one of the most fiercely contested in the nation as Democrats seek to expand their one-seat advantage in the Senate. President Bush is campaigning for Mr. Thune in an effort to help Republicans retake control of the chamber; Mr. Daschle is working hard to help Mr. Johnson keep his seat.
Earlier this year, Mr. Daschle and his wife, Linda, dropped plans to buy property in the Black Hills. The majority leader said he would be working on a solution to the forestry issue and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict.
Mr. Daschle said the forestry agreement he brokered was better than the one sponsored by Mr. Thune because it had the support of local groups in South Dakota. Western lawmakers are eager to obtain similar exemptions in their home states where wildfires have scorched 4 million acres this summer.
At least three bills have been introduced in the House, and senators hope to attach a similar amendment to an interior spending bill.
"If this legislative maneuvering represents a newfound conviction on the part of Senator Daschle, I wholeheartedly welcome him aboard," said Rep. Denny Rehberg, Montana Republican and the first to introduce legislation. "If, as I fear, this is nothing more than a political ploy to garner election-year votes, he should be ashamed of himself."
Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health, called the argument for consensus "a Trojan horse."
"If I'd have been the first person to propose that language, the Sierra Club would have had a march on Washington," Mr. McInnis said.

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