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    A Times Editorial

    Hidden environmental assaults

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 12, 2003

    Antienvironmental forces in Congress are trying to trick the American public. Where they have failed in their frontal assault on rules protecting America's most pristine national forests from logging, they are trying to sneak through the back door.

    Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has attached regressive riders to the belated appropriations bill moving quickly through Congress. While more responsible members have focused on meeting the nation's needs, with increased spending on education, the war in Afghanistan and medical care for retirees and veterans, Stevens and others have used the process to hide gifts for the logging industry. They include:

    -- Exempting all public lands in the state of Alaska from conservation rules that protect the two largest national forests in the nation, Tongass and Chugach. In Tongass alone, 9-million acres are at risk, and without restraints the Forest Service is ready to go forward with nearly 50 large timber sales.

    -- Requiring the U.S. Forest Service to increase annual logging on public land throughout the country. In addition to the environmental harm done by increased logging, taxpayers pick up the tab for the roads built in our forests to aid the loggers. In the past decade it has cost us $2.5-billion.

    -- Authorizing unlimited logging under the guise of clearing flammable brush from forests near developed areas. Where the Bush administration was going to try a limited pilot program of forest thinning, the new language would allow expanded logging of large trees in remote forests that don't pose a fire threat.

    Those aren't the only environmentally regressive proposals hidden in the spending bill. Other add-on language would cut nearly a billion dollars from conservation programs and allow a destructive water project on the Mississippi River. And Stevens was expected to offer another rider to appropriate money to study drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a proposal the full Senate rejected last year.

    When the democratic process didn't get Stevens and the others what they wanted, they found another way. But by attaching special interest giveaways to an important appropriations bill, they undermine the democratic process.

    When Americans have been asked to comment on plans to clear-cut or drill their irreplaceable wilderness areas, they have overwhelmingly chosen protection instead. Under cover of fighting a war against terrorism, however, Stevens and the others have ignored the public's right to be heard and done a disservice to all Americans.

    The appropriations bill is expected to go to the full House today and to the Senate on Thursday for approval. Responsible members, such as influential Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, should not let the budgetary process be held hostage by special interests. They should reject the bill until it is rid of its antienvironmental (and antidemocratic) riders.

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