Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, pursuant to House Resolution 239, I call up the bill (H.R. 1904) to improve the capacity of the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to plan and conduct hazardous fuels reduction projects on National Forest System lands and Bureau of Land Management lands aimed at protecting communities, watersheds, and certain other at-risk lands from catastrophic wildfire, to enhance efforts to protect watersheds and address threats to forest and rangeland health,
including catastrophic wildfire, across the landscape, and for other purposes, and ask for its immediate consideration.
The Clerk read the title of the bill.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 1904, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003. This bipartisan legislation has undergone remarkable scrutiny and in fact is a rather modest response compared to the magnitude of the forest health crisis confronting this Nation. Over 190 million acres of public lands are at risk to damage from insects, disease and catastrophic wildfire. By that we mean if you have forests in your district or your constituents benefit from a forest either by receiving
clean water from a forested watershed or they go hiking in a national forest on weekends, you need to support this bipartisan bill.
By catastrophic wildfire, we do not mean natural wildfires that burn across the ground and take out the brush. We mean the kind of fire that consumes the entire forest, shoots flames into the air hundreds of feet and takes out entire, huge trees.
We are proposing to treat less than one in six of the acres on Federal lands using the streamlined procedures authorized in the underlying bill. This is not a massive logging bill. This is perhaps an under action to the magnitude of the problem we have on our public lands.
Why are we doing this? Because these forest health problems are national in scope and because what is at stake here is far more than the loss of wood fiber.
Here is a map showing what is known as ``condition classes'' of forest and rangeland across the United States. As Members can see, while a good portion of the problem is in the western United States, there is also a lot of land in the eastern United States that is at risk to fire, insects and disease. Seventy-five percent of the National Forest land in Alabama is in condition class 2 or 3, the yellow and red we see here. Almost 1 million acres in Arkansas is in condition class 2 or 3; 730,000
acres in Illinois; half a million acres in Indiana; 2.1 million in Michigan; 4.2 million acres, all of this bright red, in Minnesota; 2.3 million in Missouri; nearly half a million in New Hampshire; almost a million in North Carolina; and nearly three-quarters of a million acres in Pennsylvania.
In those States alone, that roughly adds up to almost 12.5 million acres of land in the eastern United States. There are several other States in the East that have problems at least that severe. This bill will allow the Forest Service to reach out and treat only a fraction of this acreage using expedited procedures. I would hope my colleagues in the East would want to support this bill in order to protect their forests.
In addition, I support H.R. 1904 because it takes a comprehensive approach to water quality. If we do not get ahead of these catastrophic fires, this is what we will be left with on millions of acres of precious watersheds. If this hillside had been thinned and a normal healthy forest restored, a creeping fire through here would have done little damage. Instead, a catastrophic fire has created a dead hillside that cannot absorb water.
Here the intense heat of a catastrophic fire effectively turns the topsoil to glass and prevents percolation into the water table. A heavy rain event on a fire site like this will create massive flooding and transport large amounts of ash and soil into nearby streams, contaminating water for wildlife and downstream drinking water supplies.
Some suggest we should not do any hazardous fuels reduction projects outside the wildland-urban interface, that we leave watersheds and recreational lands to whatever situation fate has in store for them. This is the fate that the situation has in store for them; and if
this is allowed to occur in the interior of our forests and then approaches the urban interface, nothing that is done will stop this from taking all of that land as well if it is allowed to get to this magnitude as it approaches that barrier. If this stand had been actively managed, a fire here would have done far less damage. That would make it a better place for everyone, better wildlife habitat, better recreation area, better watershed, better air quality and certainly a heck of a lot prettier.
Sitting back and hoping for the best is not the way to get healthy forests.
Some have suggested that we spend almost all of our efforts and funds within a few hundred yards of inhabited areas. This is an illusion, and it is irresponsible. We cannot protect communities by doing all of the work near their boundaries. Fires over the last several years have raced miles and leaped as much as 2 miles away from the main fire, crossing huge firebreaks like interstate highways to burn hundreds of homes.
Sitting back, hoping for the best and letting existing bureaucratic processes continue to founder is not fiscally responsible. Last year, the Federal Government spent $1.6 billion fighting catastrophic fires. States spent hundreds of millions as well. We need to recognize that these huge expenditures are a land management problem. While we need to continue fighting fires, we need to be smarter and make investments in active land management in order to ultimately reduce these exorbitant firefighting
We have listened to people from all over the country in putting this bill together. In addition to the remedial hazardous fuels reduction projects, the legislation now contains authorization to assess and attack the problem of major insect infestation that are threatening public and private forestland all over the country. We have added provisions to create cooperative watershed protection programs on private forestlands and a healthy [Page: H4299]
program to ensure continued healthy management of private forestland.
As we came to the floor, we made adjustments in the bill to clarify the modest goals of hazardous fuels reduction. The bill now clarifies that there will be public notice and comment on all projects and, when projects are judicially appealed, the government will carry the burden of proof on the merits of the project. We will now require that all insect assessment projects receive outside peer review. We have clarified that the contentious debates over endangered species, roadless areas and old-growth
policy are not a part of this modest bill.
Lastly, I want to point out that there is a truly impressive coalition of groups supporting this legislation. Labor unions, local conservation districts, county governments, professional land managers, volunteer firefighters and State officials have all come out in strong support of the underlying legislation. We have over 130 cosponsors of this bill, and it has been reviewed and overwhelmingly approved by three committees of the House.
As we speak, this year's fire season is getting under way. The experts at the National Interagency Fire Center expect much of the interior West, south/central Alaska, portions of California, western Great Lakes States and northern Maine to experience an above-normal fire season. Please join me and your colleagues from across the country in support of beginning to take steps to protect our natural resources for the benefit of our children and grandchildren who will wonder if we fail to act why
we did not take the obvious steps we needed to take to conserve our forests. I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. STENHOLM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I recently met with tribal chairmen/representatives from the tribes in Arizona with timber interests, the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona. They had come to thank me for cosponsoring the Healthy Forests Act and to let me know that they supported the legislation and hoped for its passage. Unfortunately, for several of these tribes, they are already facing the devastating impacts of forest fires and insect infestation, two results that the Healthy Forests Initiative is meant to help
The chairman of the White Mountain Apaches recounted for me the mass destruction that the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire of 2002 had on the forest resources of the Fort Apache Indian reservation. This fire raged across the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Fort Apache Indian reservation, burning some 469,000 acres. It grew to 15 acres in the first 13 minutes of its life and continued to expand at a rate of 1 1/4 acres a minute.
Timber harvesting and processing was the main industry of the White Mountain Apache tribe, and it will be years before the jobs and income generated by that industry will be seen again. Even their burial grounds and the graves of their ancestors are in danger as a result of the environmental damage from the Rodeo-Chedeski Fire.
The bark beetle has decimated the forest resources of several of the other tribes, with the San Carlos Apache tribe having lost 40 percent of their forest due to the damage of this pest.
The question before us today is whether we are willing to learn from our mistaken belief that the best way to protect our forests is to leave them alone.
We made a decision a long time ago to manage our forests. Having made that decision, we now have a responsibility to manage them using the best science we have available.
Well-managed forests can withstand fire. In fact, forests that have been preventively treated to reduce hazardous fuel loads can benefit from periodic fires. These fires create forest openings for new growth, provide a variety of wildlife habitat and reduce fuel buildup.
The bill before us today will help us improve management of our forests in several important ways. The bill authorizes expedited approval of forest thinning and cleanup projects on 20 million acres of Federal lands. It authorizes applied silvicultural assessments on 1,000-acre plots to test treatments for insect and disease infestations. It provides grants for biomass energy production from the debris produced by the projects. And it establishes a new conservation easement system to protect ecologically
important forests on private lands.
The cumulative effect of these changes will be healthier forests that are less likely to produce the catastrophic wildfires that have destroyed millions of acres of private and public forests in recent years. These catastrophic fires burn hotter, spread faster, and cause long-term, severe environmental damage, sometimes even sterilizing the soil.
Last year, 23 firefighters lost their lives fighting wildfires; and taxpayers spent about $1.5 billion to contain record-setting fires. In the rural communities nearest to forests, tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, thousands of structures were destroyed, and tourist-dependent economies suffered significant financial losses.
Let us untie the hands of our forest managers and let them begin using the management practices that are best suited to prevent the wildfires that have already taken so much from us. I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1904 and oppose the substitute.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. WALDEN of Oregon. Mr. Speaker, I want to first acknowledge the comments of my colleague from Texas and appreciate his great leadership on this effort and his support of this bill. This legislation has 17 Democrat co-sponsors. We have 137 overall filed on the bill. Three of those Democrat co-sponsors are the ranking members of their committees. And I thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Stenholm) for his leadership on this issue.
Let us talk about what this bill does.
This is land that was on fire at Squires Peak last year, 2002. This is in a treated area that is burning right now. This is where the Forest Service workers have gone in and done the treatments we are advocating in this bill.
Here is the aftermath. We can see the trees are green, some of the brush, but otherwise the forest is in pretty good health.
This is the fire burning the same location but just over the hill a bit from where the first photo was. This is a place where it had not been treated. See the severity of the fire, the density of the stands. This is what it looks like when that fire is finished, enormous catastrophic fire. In fact, there are still some trees burning there. Dense stands, black timber, scorched ground, sterilized soil, ruined habitat.
Here we see a pine beetle infestation in the Nez Perce National Forest. This is what we are trying to figure out the best way to treat. How do we get in there and deal with the forests like that and get the disease and the bug infestations out? This is the Tanner Gulch fire. It occurred in 1989. What is important about this, this was in my district. It is in the Wallowa-Whitman, and it wiped out a spring Chinook salmon run. We can see the burned trees, the destroyed hillsides and all the mud
and all going down that stream. We ruined that habitat. These are unhealthy forests. The Moose Creek fire in Montana destroyed more timber on the Flathead National Forest than has ever been harvested on that Forest.
Human consequences of these kinds of fires, we lost 23 men and women last year fighting these fires or going to fight them. The American taxpayer spent $1.5 billion on 2002's record blazes.
So who supports this legislation? The professional biologists, the professional silviculturists, the Society of American Foresters, the National Association of State Foresters, the Western Forestry Leadership Council.
Let me tell my colleagues what the Society of American Foresters said in their letter dated May 29 of this year: ``Serious problems of insect and disease outbreaks, catastrophic wildfire, and invasive species are reducing the health of forests across the country. Professional forest managers need to be able to act now to address these [Page: H4300]
issues and the ecological, social, and economic conditions associated with them.''
The Society of American Foresters endorsing the underlying bill, 1904.
Finally, let us make the point, because there is a lot of misinformation out there, the provisions of this legislation do not touch national parks. They do not touch national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, national monuments, or inventoried roadless areas. None of those areas fall under the precepts of this bill.
I urge passage of H.R. 1904 and urge rejection of the Miller-DeFazio substitute.
Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the pending legislation. Others will come to the floor to discuss the threat of wildfire to the health and general welfare of segments of the American population. Others will come to the floor to discuss other elements of this legislation such as its provisions concerning insect infestation which threatens some of our forests and forest industries.
These are debatable issues, and the House will be presented with an alternative to the pending bill in the form of a substitute that will be offered by the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller), the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio), the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers), and myself. We are not unmindful of the need to address the issues raised by this bill, but in our view we would do so in a more prudent and responsible manner.
There is one pending issue in this legislation, however, which transcends the debate over forest fires and forest health: the independence of our judiciary and right of Americans to seek redress from the courts when they believe they are aggrieved by a governmental action. Indeed, the judicial review provisions of this bill would set a dangerous precedent for anybody concerned with civil liberties, civil rights, workers' rights and any other issue that may come before our judiciary.
Consider this: Under this bill the Courts are told to expedite the consideration of any lawsuit involving forest hazardous fuels reduction projects. In effect, they are told to give priority consideration to these types of lawsuits and render a decision within 100 days of filing.
Terrorist trials, corporate crime cases, civil rights cases, name it, those would have to be put on the back burner because this legislation says that lawsuits involving cutting trees are the most important types of litigation there is before the courts. Incredible. Simply incredible. This bill tells the court that litigation involving thinning trees is more important than prosecuting suspected al Qaeda terrorists. To judge lawsuits over forest thinning projects more important than all other
civil cases, let alone criminal cases, is seriously misguided. To make this policy law is absurd.
But the violation of our judiciary does not end there. By no means. For example, the sponsors of this measure have rigged the system in favor of the Federal agencies. The bill sets a brand new standard for injunctive relief by mandating that courts must give the greatest weight to what a Federal agency determines to be in the public interest. In essence, a directive to ignore the basis of appeal brought by the plaintiffs in a lawsuit.
Think about the ramifications of that for a moment. Think about it. Think about the precedent we would be setting. In my neck of the woods, for example, it would be like telling the families of coal miners who died in a mine explosion that if they sued the Mine Safety and Health Administration for alleged failure to adequately inspect the mine, when they walked into the courthouse, the judge by statute had already been ordered to defer to the Federal agency. Basically, to ignore the contentions
of the aggrieved families.
Many of us have been here long enough to remember when conservatives did not trust the Federal Government, and they did not endorse expanded and unchecked Federal powers. These provisions have caused a whole group of organizations which have no interest in forest policy to take a stand in opposition to this bill. The NAACP, for example, is opposed to this bill. In a letter sent to all Members of the House, they state: ``We urge you to reject H.R. 1904 as it could severely impact the ability of
our Federal courts to issue time decisions in civil rights, workers' rights, and other pressing matters, and change the fundamental balance that has been struck in our legal system.''
The effect of these provisions are to unfairly and arbitrarily shut the courthouse door on Americans, making the Federal Government far less accountable to its citizens. It is unfortunate that the sponsors of this bill chose to inject this controversial attack on the independence of our judiciary in a measure of this nature. These provisions are a poison pill, and they do a disservice to our addressing issues such as forest insect infestation and forest fires in a prudent and responsible fashion.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute.
I want to respond to the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Rahall). This bill, far from closing the courthouse door, opens it wide, makes it effective for those who seek redress in the courts to address the issue at hand. Right now, under current procedures, individuals who want no activity to take place in our forests at all will use our judicial system to delay action on our forests for 2, 3 years. If we have a forest that is prime for a forest fire because of the fuel density that
is built up in it or because disease or insects have destroyed it, we need to take action promptly. That is what this does.
In no other area of the law that I know of is one allowed on appeal in the judicial process to raise issues that they did not raise at the outset, and that is also done commonly by extreme environmental groups who wait until the end. This cures that. It opens it up. The public is able to participate in the process throughout public comment, in the administrative process and in the appeals process, but it gets it done in a timely fashion.
Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Burns).
Mr. BURNS. Mr. Speaker, America's forest ecosystems are being decimated at an alarming rate by large-scale catastrophic wildfire and massive outbreaks of disease, insect infestation, and invasive species. In the State of Georgia alone, we have a little over 800,000 acres of Federal forest. Last year, 13,000 acres of those trees were infested and destroyed by the southern pine beetle. H.R. 1904 combats these infestations and assists land managers in reducing the susceptibility of forest ecosystems
to severe infestations.
Prior to consideration of this bill in the Committee on Agriculture, I consulted Dr. James Sweeney, Interim Dean of the Warnell School of Forest Resources at the University of Georgia, and I got his views on the state of our forests. He said, ``We need to do a better job of prevention, a more efficient job of control, and a bigger effort at restoration. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act is a bill that needs to be passed.''
Mr. Speaker, Dr. Sweeney is an expert in forestry. With his recommendation and that of the Georgia Forestry Commission and Georgia Forestry Association, I support this bill.
Mr. BISHOP of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, last summer, we all watched millions of acres of forestland burn up in wildfires; thousands of animals, including threatened and endangered species, killed or displaced; and, worst of all, dedicated firefighters losing their lives trying to extinguish these out-of-control blazes. These tragedies were compounded by the knowledge that these fires were preventable and resulted from misguided forest management policies designed with good intentions but leading
to disastrous results. While the most devastating fires occurred in the West, all parts of the country, including Georgia and the Southeast, are at risk.
Moreover, millions of additional acres are destroyed or threatened by insect infestations each year, both on private and public forestlands. In Georgia, the Southern pine beetle has ravaged many forestlands, and in other parts of the South this insect damage is occurring at an alarming pace. It [Page: H4301]
threatens to destroy the forests with less fanfare than a wildfire but with the same devastating result.
This needless destruction can be prevented with additional research and active forest management. I support H.R. 1904 as a way to move towards the prevention of unnecessary forest fires and insect infestations. This legislation would assist our public land managers by allowing for the reduction of excessive fuels on the forest floors that are turning our lands into tinder boxes. It would also assist the Forest Service and our land-grant universities and colleges with needed research dollars into
insect infestations and ways to turn this research into practical applications.
The bill would also help protect other forestlands through the Watershed Assistance program, designed to assist landowners in protecting critical watershed areas, and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program, developed to rehabilitate degraded forest ecosystems through the use of conservation plans. It even advances the use of renewable fuels by providing grants for the use of biomass for energy production.
Mr. Speaker, with the help of H.R. 1904, hopefully we will see less damage from wildfires and insect infestations in the future. It is time to start preventing these massive wildfires, instead of simply reacting to them once they have already started burning.
The legislation is good for Georgia, good for the South, and good for the forestlands of America. I urge the passage of this much-needed legislation.
Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 1904. The bill before us represents a compromise achieved after arduous and intense negotiations which began in earnest last fall. It is certainly not everything that I would have wanted, that is the nature of compromise, but it is a noteworthy attempt to deal with a very real problem of forest fires on lands where fire has been too long suppressed in regions that are increasingly populated.
If used properly, the tools provided in this bill will ease the path of projects that are carefully designed to reduce the risk of fire in those forests where fire would most threaten lives and homes and water supplies. This is not meant to be a bill that increases commercial logging or to give the Forest Service carte blanche. The projects undertaken through this bill ought to be environmentally sound and carefully planned, especially given the remarkably immature nature and state of our knowledge
of forest ecology and fire management.
The compromise negotiated with the gentleman from Virginia (Chairman GOODLATTE), the gentleman from California (Chairman POMBO), the gentleman from Colorado (Chairman MCGINNIS), and the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden) and the White House is designed to help ensure that the vision of this bill that I just outlined is actually the one that comes to pass.
Let me describe some of the key elements of the compromise. Most important, the compromise rewrites section 107 to ensure that courts still have the latitude they need when they consider whether to grant injunctions. It does this in several ways.
First, it makes clear that this bill does not change the basic test courts use when deciding whether to issue an injunction. Instead, the bill lays out some matters that must be weighed when courts apply two of the standard tests.
Specifically, the bill makes clear that both undertaking a project and not undertaking a project can have short-term and long-term costs and benefits that need to be weighed. Balancing harms, to use the legal term, is not a simple matter that involves assuming that a project would produce harms that matter only in the short-term or that it would produce nothing other than benefits over the long term.
Third, the bill makes clear that while the court should give weight to the views an agency holds concerning balance of harms, the court has no obligation to defer to the agency and no reason to heed the agency at all if its findings are arbitrary and capricious. In other words, the agency cannot, and I emphasize, cannot, do as it pleases when it pleases.
What all these technical concerns add up to is this: courts will continue to be able to issue injunctions against forestry projects that harm the environment, either while a case is pending or permanently.
The compromise also puts in place other protections against questionable projects. To be more specific, it limits the geographic reach of the expedited projects created by the bill; it requires that an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment be conducted on every project covered by this bill; it removes language that could be construed to weaken the Roadless Rule; it ensures that notice and comment periods will be sufficient to allow genuine airing of fire projects; and it
requires experimental projects in response to insect infestations to be treated as true experiments with an objective, outside peer review and with recourse to the courts.
In short, while this bill does create expedited procedures, it is not devoid of safeguards to protect our forestlands, which belong to all the people of our Nation, today and in future generations.
This bill will require careful monitoring along the way; and if the version emerging from conference is worthy of support, our task will have just begun. Implementation must be carefully monitored to make sure the new law lives up to its intended purpose.
Those purposes are worthy, the protection of lives and property; the implementation of sensible forestry projects to prevent fire; the return of our forests gradually to something more like their natural fire cycle.
Right now, this bill is our only chance to achieve these goals. I urge its adoption, and I oppose the substitute.
Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me time.
Mr. Speaker, there are some grounds for agreement here. This chart shows what we want to prevent. Fires are not partisan. In fact, last fall we negotiated a bipartisan agreement, something that was not everything the timber industry wanted; and it certainly was not everything the environmentalists wanted. But that approach was abandoned several weeks ago. Now the White House is calling the shots here, and they are going to jam through a bill.
There are a lot of reasons to oppose this bill. I mean, one is do we trust appointed bureaucrats with our precious natural resources? They created this problem through 100 years of mismanagement; and this is giving all the discretion in terms of appeals, protection of old growth. Even the courts have to give deference to the judgment of the appointed bureaucrats. I do not think the Republicans would support that for a Democratic administration. I would not support it for a Democratic or Republican
But there are another 5 billion reasons to oppose this bill. There is no money in it. The bill we wrote last fall admitted that this is an expensive proposition. Undoing 100 years of mismanagement is very expensive.
There is no money in this bill, and they are going to finance this bill potentially by cutting the very resource that should be protected, what we wanted to restore.
We just heard about low-intensity fires. We want to go back to low-intensity fires, big old trees, widely spaced in Eastern Oregon and down through the intermountain States.
But we give all of the discretion on the harvest to the Secretary of Agriculture and his or her appointees, and we say there is no money and that we are going to finance this by putting contractors out there and having them remove things and paying for the [Page: H4302]
projects that way. If you do that, guess what they are going to take first? They are going to take out the big old trees. They might not bother with the brush and poles and dead stuff, which is what
we need to be targeting.
This is not the bill we should be voting on today, and not a single Democratic amendment was allowed. What the heck kind of a process is this?
Mr. STENHOLM. Mr. Speaker, in the distribution of time, I heard that, I believe, the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner), the chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, yielded his time for management to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte).
Did anyone claim the time on the Democratic side for the Committee on the Judiciary?
Ms. BALDWIN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, no one doubts the need to reduce the threat of forest fires after last summer, when our country experienced the second-worst fire season in 50 years. However, H.R. 1904 is not the answer, and, contrary to its name, does little to make our forests healthier.
Sections 106 and 107 of this bill make unwise changes to the Federal appeals and judicial review process. Under the guise of expediting fire control programs, the intent of these two sections is clear: to limit public input and to shift the review authority from an independent judiciary toward Federal agencies run by political appointees.
Section 106 of this bill would limit the amount of time the public has to file a legal challenge to a mere 15 days, inclusive of holidays and weekend days. Clearly, this time limit is not long enough for someone to grasp and analyze how a project will affect the health of their family and the communities around them.
Ironically, this provision could exacerbate the problem it proposes to address. I suspect more people might dash up the courtroom steps and file preemptive lawsuits against projects, since failing to do so closes the door thereafter.
Section 106 also attempts to limit the time judges have to review cases and mandates that they inform congressional committees whenever they extend injunctions beyond 45 days. Besides making judges postpone other important cases, like criminal matters, civil rights or terrorism, this provision makes judges subject to constant legislative scrutiny.
Section 107 also seeks an unwise change in American legal standards by requiring courts to give unprecedented deference to Federal agency findings when considering whether to grant a restraining order or injunction. This provision would essentially allow the executive branch agencies to decide what is in the public's best interest without taking the concerns of judges or communities into consideration.
This so-called Healthy Forests Restoration Act is anything but. It is yet another example of the Bush administration rolling back our environmental protections. Now is the time for those who understand how important the environment is for future generations to stand up to this administration.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. STENHOLM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 1 minute.
Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to the charge that the Healthy Forests Restoration Act cuts the heart out of the National Environmental Policy Act.
The fact is, this bill requires the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to conduct environmental reviews of forest thinning projects in accordance with NEPA. The most important element of NEPA is the environmental review of the proposed project, the project that is to be implemented; and that review is retained under the bill.
The bill also gives agencies discretion to limit environmental review to the proposed project only, which means an agency would not have to consider multiple alternative project options that are not likely to be implemented as is currently required under NEPA. Under current law, land management agencies are required to analyze multiple alternatives, devoting scarce resources to hypothetical projects instead of to developing additional projects in other vulnerable areas of our forests.
Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 3 minutes.
Mr. Speaker, America deserves a fuels reduction program in our forests that protects two American icons: first, small towns; and second, big trees. This bill does neither. This bill is doomed to failure in not protecting either small towns or big trees, for three reasons.
The first reason is, it does not provide the money that is necessary to do the job. If we take a look at this map, the Forest Service suggests there are 190 million acres needing treatment. They propose to do about 2.8 million in the next year, this tiny little red dot. That is the combination of three States.
They want to propose to do a tiny little red dot, and they do not authorize a dollar for the fuels reduction program. They are so fixated on red tape they forget green money. They cannot do the job without it. Our bill does that job.
Second, the bill does not target our precious resources to protect human property and life first as a priority, unlike our bill, which does. It is not just me that says this. There are a dozen letters to the Republican chairman of the committee responsible for this bill pleading for help for our local communities to protect against a fire in the crucial wildline-urban interface.
A letter from Donald Vanderhoof, Mayor of the city of Glenwood Springs, said, ``Unfortunately, H.R. 1904 does not provide local communities with the necessary tools to mitigate future fires. Despite the fact that 85 percent of the land within the community protection zone is non-Federal, H.R. 1904 channels funds to Federal land projects.''
They have not provided monies for small communities where the rubber meets the road and the fire hits the edge of their town; our bill does.
Third problem, their bill does not protect big trees. Now, there is a bipartisan consensus that there is some thinning that is appropriate in the forest, but we do not thin trees like this multiple century-old tree. Their bill allows that to be done. Their bill does cut the heart out of NEPA, because the very heart of NEPA is considering alternatives to what size trees they are going to thin.
It seems to me that our Federal agencies ought to think about what size they are going to thin and study alternatives in the NEPA process. Their bill cuts that out. Instead, essentially, they want to sell these big trees [Page: H4303]
to generate money. That is where they propose to get money for this program.
That is a little bit like somebody who is sick selling their good kidney to treat the bad one. They end up with no kidneys. That is what they are proposing to do to forests. They want to let the Forest Service finance this plan by cutting down big trees to do these thinning projects. It is unnecessary, it is wrong, it is against what their constituents want and ought to be defeated. Support the Democratic substitute.
Mr. STENHOLM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, we keep hearing that the Healthy Forest Restoration Act increases protection for communities from wildfires by speeding up the implementation of forest thinning projects. That is true. That is why we keep hearing it.
To my friend, the gentleman from Washington, and his response, that little, bitty red dot, many of us who have spent considerable amount of time studying this problem believe that by reallocation of current forest services we can deal with this. It does not require all of the new money that some propose if we in fact readjust the manner in which we regulate the forests of our country.
Even the critics of this bill acknowledge, as the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. Udall) states in his dissenting remarks to the Committee on Agriculture report, that streamlining of the administrative appeals process would be appropriate for high-priority fuel reduction projects.
In a Dear Colleague, the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller) argues that his substitute provides for expedited treatment of Federal lands that pose a risk of wildfire to local communities. Under the bill, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management would have to conduct a full environmental analysis of each proposed thinning project, but the agencies would not have to analyze a full range of alternatives to the proposal, as current law requires.
The bill would set a 15-day time limit for filing lawsuits challenging the fuel reduction project once the agency has formally announced a final decision and would urge the courts to the maximum extent possible to rule from within 100 days from when the suit was filed.
Critics of the bill seem to want it both ways. First, they argue that the bill does not do enough to implement these projects. Then they argue in favor of continuing the unnecessary and time-consuming analysis of alternative projects under NEPA and against reasonable time limitations on legal challenges.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the remaining 1 minute.
Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to address what the Environmental Protection Act does. It is intended for taxpayers to ask agencies to think twice about what they do. It is intended to ask agencies to look at alternatives to what they do, to figure out what the best alternative for the taxpayer dollar is and for the environment.
The reason this bill cuts the heart out of the Environmental Protection Act is that it stops any consideration of any alternative to exactly what one person who works for this agency may say.
Now maybe cutting 18-inch trees is the appropriate thing in one forest, but maybe it is appropriate to cut 12-inch trees or 8-inch trees in another one. What they have done is taken away from taxpayers the right to ask their government employees to consider what the right size trees ought to be in these projects. That is the heart of the Environmental Protection Act.
It is an unfortunate step and an unnecessary one, because we ought to preserve both our big trees, our small towns, and our citizens' rights.
Mr. HAYWORTH. Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend, the gentleman from Virginia, for yielding time to me.
Mr. Speaker, my friend, the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Inslee), offered a rather imperfect analogy when he talked about someone selling their kidney to deal with financial problems.
No, Mr. Speaker, the problem is not the analogy to a kidney, and the problem is not with cutting the heart out of environmental regulation. The problem we are confronting, Mr. Speaker, is that we have cut the very heart out of rural communities in the western United States who live surrounded by national forests.
In Arizona, in the Rodeo-Chedeski fire of last summer, nearly a half million acres and over 400 homes were destroyed. If there is a silver lining to the pyrocumulous clouds, it is the very real human tragedy; not an abstraction, not a governmental study.
But we have had paralysis by analysis. The Forest Service has spent a quarter of a trillion dollars of their time and their financial resources to say, stop these projects because of lawsuits. What we ask for is what is reasonable, what is reasonable at long last, to have a true, balanced policy. This is an important first step. Support the legislation.
Mr. McINNIS. Mr. Speaker, I want to personally thank the chairman for all the efforts he has put in regarding the infestation we have had, regarding the forest fires, and the gentleman's focus in this committee to get this piece of legislation out before the fire season besets us.
I also want to thank the chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Goodlatte). He has gone way out of his way to help move this bill forward. It is a very, very important bill. [Page: H4304]
I need to clarify a couple points here. I say to the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Inslee), I know what his ethics are like. His ethics are, in my book, of a very high standard.
What I would do is to say to the gentleman that Glenwood Springs, which the gentleman quoted from the letter from the mayor, is my hometown. I grew up at the bottom of Storm King Mountain, where I, with 12 others, took 15 firefighters, deceased firefighters, off it.
I know something about fire, I know something about this bill, and I know something about the gentleman's ethics. The gentleman would be well advised to disassociate himself from the letter that he quoted in his comments, which was obtained through very deceitful means, as has been acknowledged this morning by the City of Glenwood Springs.
So I do not think the gentleman is aware of that. I just want the gentleman to be aware of how that letter was obtained.
Mr. INSLEE. Mr. Speaker, I see a copy of one of these letters was sent to a fellow congressman from Colorado. I was provided these by my staff.
If these are inaccurate copies, please advise me. But everything I have read, as far as I know, is accurate. If these are inaccurate copies, please advise me; and I will correct the RECORD.
To date, I have 12 letters from cities and counties in Colorado claiming that they are not taken care of.
Ms. BALDWIN. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 1/2 minutes to myself to respond to the gentleman.
Mr. Speaker, the gentleman who just spoke made reference to earlier remarks I had claimed on behalf of the Committee on the Judiciary.
As you may be aware, the Committee on the Judiciary received referral on this bill for sections 105 through 108, a very narrow part, to engage in scrutiny in what we believe is our area of expertise. And I would certainly defer to the gentleman on his areas of expertise. But you may or may not be aware that numerous civil rights organizations in this country have taken a strong stance against those provisions. I specifically spoke to sections 106 and 107 of the bill that create a new sort of
inequality, a tipping of the scales, an unevening of the playing field which I find very dangerous in terms of a precedent.
What this bill does in those provisions is it tilts the playing field by giving executive agencies with political appointees greater weight on the issue of injunctive relief and other provisions than the public or other parties. And that is a slippery slope that I think we should not go down. I certainly object to the gentleman's characterizations of my understanding of those provisions in the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. STENHOLM. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Speaker, I quarrel not with the intentions of anyone who has spoken here today. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation because I believe it does what needs to be done in order to break an impasse on how we deal with our Nation's forests.
We have heard the arguments against for year after year after year. The bottom line is the situation is not getting better. It is getting worse. I have read carefully this legislation, the specific points that seem to be coming under the most attack, and I do share the belief of my colleagues on this side of the aisle that it does all of the bad things that they allege it does.
Is it perfect legislation? Probably not. But I have traveled and visited some of our forestry areas, and I have seen the results of good management and sound science. Some of those, not my colleagues, but some of those organizations who oppose time and time again legislation like we have on the floor today, oppose it not from the sound science and good management but from a deep visceral feeling of how our Nation's natural resources ought to [Page: H4306]
for; and I respect that, but I differ very strongly with that because I do not believe that we can do those things necessary to maintain and improve our Nation's forests without applying sound science and good management.
The public should not be left out, and the public is not left out. But those who have learned to use the law in ways that keep things from happening by constantly and consistently going to the courts are not doing our Nation the service that they allege that they are doing.
I urge support of the basic bill. I urge opposition to the amendment. Let us give those in charge of our Nation's forests a chance to do a better job than what is done under current law.
Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. POMBO. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Speaker, we do have a problem. And I think that everybody who has come to the floor today to talk about the underlying bill has recognized that we have a serious problem. The gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) talked about 100 years of mismanagement in our forests, and I think it is the only thing that he said that I really did agree with him on, because there has been a hundred years of mismanagement in our forests. We went from what I believe was a point of cutting too many trees,
and we had the clear cuts and all of the resulting environmental degradation and the problems that resulted out of that. And as a response to that, we had a number of environmental groups and people that came to this floor over the years that said we
cannot continue to treat and manage our forests this way. And the pendulum swung all the way in the other direction. And a lot of folks that over the years have worked on the issue really did believe they were doing the right thing, but they were not.
The problem is they adopted a policy of hands off, keep man out, we do not want to impact the natural state of our forest. But what they forgot was we are part of nature and we are part of the impact on our forests. So when you take man out of it and you control all of the fires that would have burned over the last 30 or 40 years, you ended up with all of this underbrush that grew up in our forests. And our forests today are much more dense than they were naturally. And the underbrush is much
more full than it would have been naturally. And we ended up with a situation where a hundred years ago if a small fire had started, it would have burned along the bottom of the forest and that would have been a natural, healthy event. But today that same
fire starting in our forest gets into that underbrush, climbs up the trees and gets into the crown of the trees and destroys the forest. It sterilizes the ground. It destroys our watersheds. It destroys the communities that have grown up in these areas.
So we have to do something about that. And what we have tried to do over the last couple of years is negotiate out a way of dealing with the current situation that we have in our forests. And I do give the gentleman from California (Mr. George Miller) and the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) credit because they did negotiate with us. And the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Walden) and the gentleman from Colorado (Mr. McInnis) spent literally dozens and dozens
of hours working this through and trying to come up with a compromise.
Mr. Speaker, I believe the underlying bill is a compromise. It does not do everything I want. It does not do everything that the people in my communities want. But it does begin to move in the right direction, and that is what we are trying to do.
I listen to the opponents of this legislation. It is as if they dusted off their arguments that they had during the 1970s and rolled them out again. They have absolutely nothing to do with the underlying legislation.
This is a middle-of-the-road moderate compromise to deal with a very real problem that we have today. That is what we are trying to do. You can take an extreme position if you want. You can run out as far to the left as you possibly can and hold up your flag, but that does absolutely nothing to protect the health of our forests today. What we are trying to do is stop the risk or lessen the risk of a catastrophic fire starting in our forests.
The gentleman talked about the provisions that deal with insect infestations. We spent literally hours and hours going over that provision trying to come up with something that would limit the research to a small area and allow the researchers, the biologists, the scientists to come up with a way of stopping these insect infestations from spreading to the forests. That is what we are trying to accomplish with this bill. I would hope that my colleagues would at least try to moderate their rhetoric
and join us in supporting this bipartisan compromise.
Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from California (Mr. Pombo) is quite right. Our forests were mismanaged a century ago. And we have had a great challenge in the last century because people live in and around these forests and we must fight forest fires. But the fact of the matter is if you fight forests fires, you are going to have this density building up. Many of our forests have several times the amount of firewood growing in them than is normal, than is natural. So the fires that occur
are not natural forest fires.
I have heard the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Inslee) say that we are cutting the heart out of our environmental laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is our environmental laws will be retained. This measure is quite modest. It only applies to a little more than 10 percent of the land that is subject to these catastrophic wild fires because of this density of the forests that has built up.
The fact of the matter is, if we do not pass this legislation, the abuse of those environmental laws by extremists will cause us to burn the heart out of our Nation's forests. This is a responsible response to that.
This is something that will allow the people who know how to manage our forests to apply scientific analysis of the forests. And with public comment, with local government input, with an appeals process both administratively and through the courts, we will get a prompt and expeditious response to the problem that we are seeing every year now in our national forests. It will give us the opportunity to begin the process of making those forests safer and healthier for the animals that live in them,
for the air that we all breathe, for the streams that we all recreate in and are so important to our communities; and it will give us the opportunity to have a better environmental and economic future for rural America. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.