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Timber, Oil Policies Now Take the Fore

November 07, 2002|From Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — Environmentalists, cringing as they watched Republicans tighten the GOP's grip on Congress, said Wednesday they fear the election results could cripple the fight against widespread logging in national forests and oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge.

"I think it's very, very bad news for the environment of the West," said Debbie Sease, Sierra Club national legislative director. "I think it's going to result in more timber being cut in our national forests. There'll be attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act."

But Chris West, vice president of the timber industry's American Forest Resource Council here, said he hopes the results mean political rhetoric will be replaced by serious discussion.

"It's not doom and gloom for the environmentalists. It's just, now we're going to have an open debate about these issues," he said.

Because Republicans reclaimed control of the Senate from Democrats on Tuesday, the GOP will set its agenda and run its committees. Along with a stronger hold on the House, the Republican gains mean President Bush's agenda on natural resource issues faces a friendlier reception when Congress returns next year.

In particular, the outlook for Bush's proposals to cut wildfire risk by allowing loggers more access to the national forests, and to increase energy supplies by allowing oil companies to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, has improved.

The House approved an energy bill in August that included drilling in the Arctic refuge, but the Senate, now controlled by Democrats, has rejected development there.

The forest conflict centers on disagreement about how much logging should be allowed to remove unnaturally high levels of brush and small trees that have resulted from decades of suppressing fires.

Critics say the thinning programs are abused to remove larger, commercial-size timber. Environmentalists say Republicans and timber industry representatives are trying to fast-track forest-thinning projects by circumventing key environmental laws and judicial reviews.

Groups including the American Lands Alliance, Citizens for Better Forestry and the National Forest Protection Alliance planned rallies across the country today to protest the Bush-backed forest legislation.

"It's a very dangerous time," said Brian Vincent, California organizer for the American Lands Alliance.

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