Senators disagree on reducing threat in national forests
WASHINGTON – Opposing Republican and Democratic plans in the Senate to reduce the threat of wildfires in national forests reached a critical standoff Tuesday.
Neither strategy has enough votes to overcome procedural delays, or filibusters, from the opposition.
The Senate on Tuesday night refused on a 50-49 party-line vote to limit debate on wildfire-related amendments to a $19.3 billion Interior spending bill. Because neither the GOP nor Democratic approaches is believed to have the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, neither likely will become part of the spending bill.
So, unless a compromise is worked out within the next few days, the Senate faces the prospect of no action this year to change the management of national forests, despite the destruction this year of more than 6 million acres by wildfires in Arizona and elsewhere.
“We still think there’s an opportunity to come back to the negotiating table,” said Will Hart, a spokesman for Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a co-sponsor with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., of the Republican plan. But he acknowledged that Craig’s bill will not get enough votes to be added as an amendment to the Interior measure.
The GOP proposal mirrors much of President’s Bush’s proposal to expedite forest-thinning efforts by easing regulations and limiting lawsuits by environmentalists and private citizens on 10 million acres of national forests. Republicans say their amendment would simply broaden the applicability of a provision that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., added to another bill that allows for clearing brush and dead trees on 800 acres of South Dakota’s Black Hills. Daschle’s provision also limits lawsuits.
Daschle and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., have offered an alternative proposal that would ease some logging restrictions on 2.5 million acres. Within those acres, it would prohibit lawsuits related to activities within a half-mile “of any community structure.”
But with both plans not having the 60 votes needed to avoid procedural delays by opponents, Daschle said both proposals should be dropped to ensure passage of the Interior spending bill.
Some Republicans, however, say their amendment won’t go away and are angry at the stalemate. They say Democrats are just trying to block any plan that would make it easier for lumber companies to clear timber from national forests.
“I just ask my colleagues, ‘When are we going to say we are no longer going to be jerked around by radical environmentalists whose agenda is to destroy the commercial timber industry so that they never have to worry about any big trees being cut?’ ” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said on the Senate floor. At risk, he said, are animal habitats, homes, and lives – and “the same trees they want to save.”