Climate change is wrecking havoc in our Western states. Our National Forests are burning. The Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are scrambling to find funds with which to fight these fires in the face of inadequate funding from Congress. And while our forests burn, Speaker of the House John Boehner is busy pushing a bill he says will solve all our problems. Which means, of course, if you have been paying attention, it will do no such thing.
What Boehner wants is for President Obama to reconsider his threat to veto H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which was passed on July 9, 2015, with what Boehner says was “bipartisan support.” But it’s not really in keeping with the spirit of the idea of “bipartisan” support when nearly all Democrats voted against the legislation.
In a letter yesterday from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack, and Shaun Donovan, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Cantwell was informed that,
“The President’s approach includes the bipartisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), H.R. 167 (which was introduced by Representatives Mike Simpson and Kurt Schrader), and S. 235 (which was introduced by Senators Ron Wyden and Mike Crapo) has broad and diverse stakeholder support. This legislation provides for an adjustment to discretionary spending caps and addresses the long-term shift of resources to firefighting from other critical programs that support forest and rangeland management.”
On the other hand, we could always rob Peter to pay Paul:
The House-passed Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015, H.R. 2647, would create resource uncertainty for disaster response efforts by reallocating funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to Federal firefighting activities. In doing so, the bill would undermine the Federal Government’s ability to adequately budget for, and fund responses to, other natural or man-made disasters such as the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Additionally, H.R. 2647 would undermine financing for State and Tribal public infrastructure disaster recovery projects.
According to Boehner in a press release yesterday, reality doesn’t enter into the picture, and the President’s alternative, preferred by both the Forest Service and DOI, are not “viable” because, you know, the House won’t pass anything Obama wants:
America’s forests are national treasures, which is why the House passed a bipartisan bill to help fight wildfires now and better manage our forests in the future. Our plan will put an end to the government’s practice of borrowing from long-term forestry priorities, providing stability that will prevent crises just like this one. Our plan solves the problem and it has bipartisan support, but President Obama has threatened to veto it without offering any kind of viable alternative that can pass. So it is good that administration officials are paying attention to this issue, but they ought to direct their complaints elsewhere. The best path forward is for President Obama to reconsider his veto threat and work with us to protect our forests.
You can read what Boehner says the bill is going to accomplish here, if you want the spin. Boehner says “protect our forests” as though he means he wants to actually protect our forests. But you knew that was too good to be true, right?
Here’s a helpful translation of Boehner-speak from the Wilderness Society: “This bill would put our national forests at risk for reckless logging practices and short-cut vital environmental reviews and public involvement.”
There you go. The GOP’s answer to wildfires: Cut ’em down!
As Outdoor Alliance tells us,
The bill, H.R. 2647, the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015,” establishes a number of new exclusions from environmental review requirements for logging projects. By enabling logging projects to skirt these review requirements, the bill would cut out important opportunities for the community to engage in forest management decisions. Ultimately, it elevates a single interest—timber—over the diverse activities that take place on National Forests, including recreation.
So the solution to the fires caused by climate change is not protecting the environment, or even making more money available with which to fight the fires, but to hand our national forests over to the logging industry. Take, for example, the effects on Oregon alone:
This bill would allow much higher levels of logging and other damaging “forest management activities” on our National Forest System and BLM public lands, including BLM forest lands in western Oregon, by severely undermining the National Environmental Policy Act, reducing citizen opportunities to seek judicial relief, and reallocating Title II funds under the Secure Rural Schools Act away from road maintenance and restoration activities to timber projects.
Outdoor Alliance detailed their objections in a letter to both Boehner and Nancy Pelosi in July,
In particular, we strongly object to:
- The creation of new, unnecessary categorical exclusions from review under the National Environmental Policy Act;
- Provisions to severely curtail opportunities for judicial review by creating attorneys’ fee recovery provisions and bonding requirements that would effectively preclude access to the courts;
- And changes to the composition of resource advisory committees that would undercut the effectiveness of this tool for generating community consensus.
In a statement issued July 8, the White House stated its opposition to the legislation:
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2647. The most important step Congress can take to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration and management of the national forests and Department of the Interior (DOI) lands is to fix fire suppression funding and provide additional capacity for the Forest Service and DOI to manage the Nation’s forests and other public lands. H.R. 2647 falls short of fixing the fire budget problem and contains other provisions that will undermine collaborative forest restoration, environmental safeguards, and public participation across the National Forest System and public lands.
In other words, the so-called “Resilient Federal Forests Act” doesn’t make our forests resilient at all, but presents opportunities to limit the public’s participation in what is, after all, the public’s own property, weaken environmental safeguards, because who needs the environment? And worst of all, will not only “undermine forest restoration” but will enable cutting those trees down, which is surely antithetical to the bill’s alleged purpose.
John Boehner is always going to be John Boehner. Which means he is always going to take an issue, and come up with a supposed solution that is merely an opportunity for grifters to profit from the public trough. Rather than protect our National Forests, he wants to cut them down.
I think we can agree that the crisis affecting our forest lands should not be made an opportunity for profit, which is what Boehner’s “bipartisan” legislation promotes. Cutting down our nation’s forests is not to be confused in any sense with saving them.
It is the absence of trees in our national forests, after all, that we are trying to prevent.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.