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Ax this subsidy

Using taxpayer money to help Alaskan loggers is a boondoggle that has to be uprooted.

August 21, 2007

One of the silliest deals taxpayers were ever dealt is the subsidized logging industry in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Thanks to the House Appropriations Committee, the subsidy is gone from this year's budget -- if the Senate manages to tame Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' continuing grab for federal funds to prop up his state's economy.

Close to $40 million a year goes to building costly roads and other services to bring loggers closer to old-growth trees in the nation's largest national forest -- also the world's largest temperate rain forest. Without the subsidy, the logging industry couldn't compete with cheaper lumber from Canada and Russia.

If this were a matter of rescuing an important and viable U.S. business sector, there might be room for quibbling. The national forests were always intended for a mix of uses. But the Tongass logging and milling industry sustains just a couple of hundred workers and is never expected to turn a profit. According to a recent analysis by the National Geographic Society, the government could just as well pay each worker $146,250 a year to stay home. By contrast, close to 6,000 people are employed by the burgeoning tourism industry in that area of Alaska -- an industry that can only be harmed by environmental damage to the forest.

There isn't a single decent reason to keep this subsidy in the budget, but Stevens is expected to try to push the matter into conference committee, where there might be another shot at restoring the funds. It's a boondoggle, pure and simple, and it shouldn't be allowed to continue.

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