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Senate limits environmentalists' ability to prevent common-sense fire-risk reduction in national forests.

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Roll Call: Senate Votes to Deter Forest Fires, Environmentalists

Senate limits environmentalists’ ability to prevent common-sense fire-risk reduction in national forests.

On October 30, by a vote of 80 to 14, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill (H.R. 1904) to limit environmentalists’ ability to prevent common-sense fire-risk reduction in national forests.

The bill passed only because of the massive fires raging in California, thanks to environmentalists who have repeatedly used the appeals process to block forest-thinning projects that reduce the risk of fire.

One week earlier, the bill appeared on its way to failure, but the fires convinced some liberals-particularly Sen. Dianne Feinstein-to switch sides and support it.

Republican senators, while careful not to overdo it, were not hesitant to point out that liberal environmentalists have opposed fire-reduction plans in the past, which probably led to the current outbreak of forest fires in the first place.

“A week ago, there were objections to the Healthy Forests bill,” said Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.). “This week, with half the State of California on fire, all of a sudden we are going to get this Healthy Forests legislation.”

“We have been at this now for a couple of years,” said Sen. Craig Thomas (R.-Wyo.), referring to environmentalists’ success in blocking the Healthy Forests legislation in the past. “I just want to urge the Senate to pass this Healthy Forests legislation and invest more in preventing deadly wildfires.”

Although conservatives wanted a stronger bill that would do even more to prevent environmentalists from challenging fire-reduction programs, Thomas urged Republicans to stick to a “no-amendments” strategy in order to get the bill through. “We have to do something,” he said, pointing out that the bill “includes carefully crafted bipartisan language. If we oppose that, we are really not serious about reform.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), a longtime opponent of all plans to reduce the risk of fires by letting logging companies clear smaller trees from national forests, felt enough political pressure that she was eventually forced to vote for the bill. But she insisted that the fire was Bush’s fault because a year ago he did not give California a large Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to clear one area of forest near San Bernardino that should have been cleared years ago.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R.-Idaho) responded: “Forest scientists-not a year ago-five years ago, were pleading with us to create activity in our forests and in San Bernardino to stop a catastrophic fire that was going to happen someday. Yet this Senate-and, my guess is, the vote of [Boxer]-denied those kinds of actions, a more interactive approach and active thinning and cleaning.”

“I don’t want to talk about five years ago,” Boxer snapped back. “This isn’t the time to have a finger-pointing argument,” she added-right before she yet again pointed a finger at the Bush Administration, accusing the President of causing the fires by not preemptively declaring the current fire zone a “disaster area” earlier this year and sending a FEMA grant.

“I just lost a firefighter because no one declared this a disaster,” she said. (In fact, even if FEMA had approved the grant, the forest still would not likely have been cleared by now.)

Another liberal, Sen. Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), said he would vote for the bill. However, he complained that it does not do enough to help the forests of the Midwest-even though those forests are not nearly as dry and so pose a much smaller risk of fire than the West’s forests.

“I am particularly concerned that the bill passed by the House focuses too strongly on the implementation of recommendations made by the Western governors regarding forest health,” he said. “[T]hough Wisconsin has escaped the season unharmed, my state did face a higher than normal risk of fire this summer due to the relatively dry weather we had the year before.”

Feingold seemed to think that a dry season would justify sending a truckload of money back to Wisconsin instead of dealing with the Western forests that actually experience fires.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.) rejected environmentalists’ complaints that fire-reduction is just a sop to the timber industry, and that such projects are inherently bad just because someone is able to make money off of them. “We must not let the debate over forest health degrade into a political debate on cutting timber,” said Burns. “There are people who simply have an objection to cutting down trees, but I wonder why it’s all right to burn them down?”

A “yes” vote was a vote for the Healthy Forests bill, to reduce the risk of forest fires by, among other things, taking away environmentalists’ ability to stop or delay forest fire-reduction programs. A “no” vote was a vote against the bill.

FOR THE BILL: 80 AGAINST THE BILL: 14
REPUBLICANS FOR (50):
Alexander
Allard
Allen
Bennett
Bond
Brownback
Bunning
Burns
Campbell
Chafee
Chambliss
Cochran
Coleman
Collins
Cornyn
Craig
Crapo
DeWine
Dole
Domenici
Ensign
Enzi
Fitzgerald
Frist
Graham (S.C.)
Grassley
Gregg
Hagel
Hatch
Hutchison
Inhofe
Kyl
Lott
Lugar
McCain
McConnell
Murkowski
Nickles
Roberts
Santorum
Sessions
Smith
Snowe
Specter
Stevens
Sununu
Talent
Thomas
Voinovich
Warner

DEMOCRATS FOR (30):
Akaka
Baucus
Bingaman
Boxer
Breaux
Byrd
Conrad
Corzine
Daschle
Dayton
Dorgan
Feingold
Feinstein
Graham (Fla.)
Inouye
Johnson
Kohl
Landrieu
Lautenberg
Levin
Lincoln
Mikulski
Miller
Murray
Nelson (Fla.)
Pryor
Reid (Nev.)
Sarbanes
Stabenow
Wyden

REPUBLICANS AGAINST (0):

DEMOCRATS AGAINST (13):
Bayh
Biden
Cantwell
Carper
Clinton
Dodd
Durbin
Harkin
Kennedy
Leahy
Reed (R.I.)
Rockefeller
Schumer

INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1):
Jeffords

NOT VOTING: 6

REPUBLICANS (1): DEMOCRATS (5):
Shelby Edwards
Hollings
Kerry
Lieberman
Nelson (Neb.)
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