Author Topic: Washington Feels the Heat From California  (Read 108 times)

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Washington Feels the Heat From California
« on: October 28, 2003, 11:58:06 PM »,1,3765447.story?coll=la-home-headlines

By Richard Simon and Bettina Boxall, Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — With wildfires burning across Southern California, pressure is growing for lawmakers to act on President Bush's stalled plan to limit environmental and judicial reviews of tree-thinning projects in national forests.

Supporters of the legislation, which the administration says would help reduce fire risks, said Monday that images of burning homes and smoke-filled skies should compel Congress to pass a wildfire prevention bill this year. But deep divisions remain over the legislation, which opponents say would do little to stop the type of chaparral fires that have leapt across more than 500,000 acres the last several days.

The legislation is designed to speed up forest thinning on as much as 20 million acres of federal wild lands at high risk of fire. Both the House bill and the compromise proposal crafted by the bipartisan group of senators would let the Agriculture and Interior secretaries decide which forests would be targeted for thinning projects. A large part of the effort is expected to take place in California.

A version of Bush's "healthy forests" initiative passed the House in May but has met resistance in the Senate, where a bipartisan group recently worked out the compromise. But that effort has split Senate Democrats, a divide that was evident Monday as Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats from California, took to the Senate floor.

Feinstein, who helped craft the compromise, appealed to her colleagues to approve the measure quickly. "My sadness and concern about these wildfires is only deepened by the reality that they were entirely predictable," she said. "We need to act now."

Boxer, who has favored an alternative measure that would focus more of the thinning efforts closer to inhabited areas, told her colleagues, "It's very important that when we have a bill that relates to our forests that … we make sure what we do will, in fact, help the communities … not the big logging [companies]."

Critics of Bush's proposal said the Southern California wildfires highlight the legislation's flaws.

"Arguably it would do little, if anything, for the situation in Southern California," said Jay Watson, director of the Wilderness Society's fire program.

He and others noted that the president's bill targets federal timberland. But most of what is burning in Southern California is chaparral, thick with brush and shrubs, rather than timber. The fires have also swept across a patchwork of federal, private and state lands.

"What the fires tell me is the top priority needs to be community protection," Watson said. "To be truly effective, any legislation also has to work across all ownerships. Therein lies the major shortcoming of the House legislation. It doesn't require any emphasis in the community protection zone. And secondly, it applies exclusively to federal land."

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who worked with Feinstein and others to craft the proposed compromise, said Monday that the legislation is the "vehicle that we can use to truly bring relief to the citizens of America from disasters like this one that has befallen the citizens of California."

Feinstein has called the Senate compromise environmentally friendlier than the House bill and said it is the only one capable of passing the Senate. She said it would provide new protections for large, old trees in back country and would target at least half of the $760 million authorized each year for thinning projects near areas where people live.

Still, the compromise proposal faces opposition from environmental groups, which contend that it would allow too much logging, that it does not adequately protect old growth and that it limits public say in national forest management decisions.

"We certainly dispute that the bill would protect old-growth forests, and it still doesn't provide enough funding to do fuel reduction around communities," said Sean Cosgrove, a Sierra Club forest policy specialist.

Referring to the suburban towns hit by the Southern California brush fires, Cosgrove asked, "Why are these communities going wanting for money for fuel reduction? It's one of the most fire-prone ecosystems in America. It's got a large population that needs protection…. Let's get some money down there and do some work instead of having the House and Senate saying you need to log roadless areas in Northern California. It's ridiculous."

Most of the funding to thin hazardous fuel in California's national forests has typically gone to timberlands in Northern California, rather than the chaparral of Southern California.

Of the $53 million the U.S. Forest Service budgeted in California for hazardous fuel reduction projects in fiscal year 2003, only about $4 million was originally slated for work in Southern California's four national forests — Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino and Cleveland.

Since then, almost $15 million has been added to combat bark beetles that have left trees dead, but Southern California still gets far less money than Northern California.

Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) said the compromise proposed in the Senate would do a better job of addressing that funding shortage than the House measure.

"The president's program and House Republican proposal really don't address the Southern California situation," Miller said. "The compromise in the Senate gives you a chance for some of those lands. "

Under the bipartisan measure, court orders temporarily halting thinning projects would be limited to 60 days, although they could be extended. The House version directs federal judges to reevaluate their decision within 45 days.

A Boxer aide said his boss favors a bill that would authorize spending $5 billion over five years for thinning projects and targeting 85% of the effort in areas closest to communities.

Even if the Senate approves a forest bill, it is unclear whether House and Senate negotiators would be able to bridge their differences and arrive at a compromise.

Senate Democrats have conditioned their support on the Republican-controlled House accepting the Senate version. But House GOP leaders have refused to commit to supporting the Senate bill, saying differences should be worked out in negotiations between the chambers.

"Somebody should remind some of those senators that we don't have a unicameral Congress," said Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for Rep. Richard W. Pombo, (R-Tracy), chairman of the House Resources panel.

Bush unveiled his forest-thinning plan last year, when fires scorched nearly 7 million acres.

Whether the latest fires will clear the legislative gridlock over the bill is unclear.

"Even when the president was talking about the initiative in Redmond, Ore., with a fire burning behind him, it didn't seem to sway the people in the Senate, who would rather let our forests burn than do anything to manage them," said Thomas M. Bonnicksen, a professor of forest science at Texas A&M University.


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Re:Washington Feels the Heat From California
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2003, 04:52:38 AM »
Another reason Bush is a great president.  Unfortunately, the dems hate him so much since they think he stole the presidency, that they won't back a damn thing he proposes, so this will never get passed.  BURN BABY, BURN!

M Dogg™

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Re:Washington Feels the Heat From California
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2003, 09:47:03 AM »
Everything is controlled by Republicans, they can control whatever they want, and pass whatever they wanted.

Points West
Using Fires to Blow Political Smoke

For several days in the nation's capital, there's been lots of fiddling on fire-prevention policy while California burns. Actually the fiddling has gone on for years, which is one reason we can't see for all the smoke.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out how to prevent the kinds of roaring fires that are currently swallowing homes and taking lives. If we're going to be dumb enough to continue building in high-fire-danger areas, brush needs to be cleared to prevent the spread of killer blazes.

But we don't do it, because our attention spans are shorter than the time it takes to eat a bag of Cheetos. Someone can be burned out of house and home, only to move straight back to Tinder Box Boulevard as soon as possible and wait for history to repeat itself.

Finally, though, we've got Washington's attention. Not long after the first house went up in flames last week, various elected officials and Bush administration surrogates said it was time to cross the Ts on the president's Healthy Forests fire-prevention initiative. For my money, the most spirited cheerleader was Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), who sent out a press release with the title:

"Wake Up and Smell the Smoke"

"Given the devastating effects" of the fires, Pombo wrote, "it would be irresponsible not to act on this bill."

Nice work, Pombo. But wake up and look at the facts.

The Healthy Forests initiative wouldn't have done squat to prevent our fires. In a more splendid irony, critics argue that it wouldn't even do much to create healthy forests.

Essentially, the forests would become "healthier" by cutting them down. The initiative would give loggers greater access to federal wild lands as a means of thinning them, thereby lowering fire risk. (You'll be shocked to learn the White House's point man on forestry is a former logging industry lobbyist.)

Healthy Forests would do zero to address fire hazards where suburbs meet wild lands, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein has argued in trying to broker a compromise. I'll get to that in a second, but first, I'd like to let a couple of folks conduct a Healthy Flogging.

Peter Galvin of the Center for Biological Diversity called proponents of Healthy Forests utterly shameless for exploiting Southern California's tragedy. Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society was even more riled.

"It's searing in its ruthlessness and irresponsibility," he said. "The Healthy Forests initiative would have nothing to do with chaparral fires in Southern California, because no money is being made available to treat that or do brush removal near threatened communities."

Feinstein is trying to correct that. And by the way, she owes us. Southern California got only a tiny fraction of the state's 2003 U.S. Forest Service fire prevention funds. That's partly because Feinstein backed timberland clearing in remote areas up north, while we got stiffed down here. Last time I checked, we had a few more people, and greater risks.

Does it sometimes appear to you that there's a conspiracy to see Southern California burned to a crisp?

We might see a vote on Feinstein's plan as early as today, but despite months of negotiations with the White House, it's a tossup. On one side, environmentalists accuse Feinstein of making a deal with the devil, and they support a tougher bill by Sen. Barbara Boxer. On the other side, Healthy Forests supporters see Feinstein as too much of a tree hugger.

"We're hopeful," said Feinstein flack Howard Gantman.

Sure he is. But history tells us the whole thing could go up in smoke.


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Re:Washington Feels the Heat From California
« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2003, 09:10:36 PM »
Another reason Bush is a great president.  Unfortunately, the dems hate him so much since they think he stole the presidency, that they won't back a damn thing he proposes, so this will never get passed.  BURN BABY, BURN!

Since to you everything is about Dems vs Reps, and nothing is a coincidence to you.... I think the reason behind the chaos in California is a SIGN from GOD to let us know of the big mistake we made by getting the REPUBLICAN Arnold into office, and is now showing us and giving us a preview of what's to come... God is giving us a little taste of Arnold's governorship... I mean you think all these fires, the strikes by the supermarkets, the strikes by the MTA bus system, the earthquakes are all coincidences? I think not...