Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Responses to Tester getting forest bill in omnibus spending bill

The response to the news that Democratic Sen. Jon Tester successfully included his Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative (formally Forest Jobs and Recreation Act) into the Senate Omnibus Appropriations Act has been fast and furious.

Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg issued the following statement this afternoon:

“This is government at its worst. Montanans have had zero input on this new wilderness bill. It hasn't even had a public hearing in Congress. [Editors note: The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources did hold a hearing on Dec. 17, 2009 Updated Editor’s note: After further review of the actual language included in the omnibus bill, I have determined that Rehberg is correct: THIS bill hasn’t had a hearing. The language included in the omnibus bill is substantially different than the bill that was heard at the Dec. 17, ENRC hearing].  What's more, Senator Tester is jamming his unpopular bill into yet another trillion dollar spending bill jam packed with pork. These are exactly the sort of underhanded tactics the American people rejected in November.  Apparently, the message didn’t get through.  There’s not enough time to read this bill, let alone seek out public input.  This is nothing but a shameful attempt to force-feed Montanans another dose of big-government before the clock runs out on the Pelosi regime.”

Tester’s spokesman, Aaron Murphy, sent this response to reporters shortly thereafter:

Since its introduction in July of 2009, Sen. Tester’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act has been publicly debated, discussed and extensively reported across Montana. His final bill reflects comments and requests made in this process. Here is a recap of the transparency surrounding the legislation:

Sen. Tester held 11 public listening sessions with Montanans, across the state, before and after the bill’s introduction:

  • Deer Lodge (3/6/2010 with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and 2/18/2009)
  • Missoula (10/26/2009 and 2/18/2009)
  • Butte (11/12/2009)
  • Troy (10/10/2009)
  • Bozeman (9/28/2009)
  • Dillon (9/26/2009)
  • Seeley Lake (7/18/2009)
  • Libby (4/18/2009)
  • Townsend (4/9/2009)

Sen. Tester’s online transparency:

  • Most recent legislative language kept current at tester.senate.gov/forest.
  • Legislation, maps and summaries online since bill’s introduction
  • Online posting of all draft versions of the bill written by Sen. Tester
  • Online input collected through tester.senate.gov/forest
  • Sen. Tester posted a list of changes made at the suggestion of Montanans

Contrary to some statements put forward today, the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act had a public Senate hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on December 17, 2009. [Editor’s note: While Murphy is correct that the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act had a public hearing, the Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative, which is a substantially modified version of the original bill, has not had a hearing.] The hearing included supporters and opponents of the bill so they could discuss the bill in an open forum and suggest changes.

Other responses to the bill I’ve received in recent days regarding the latest developments:

Statement from Matthew Koehler of the Last Best Place Wildlands Campaign:

“Many Montana's have expressed serious, substantive concerns with this bill, including the mandated logging provisions, motors in Wilderness and turning some wildlands into permanent motorized recreation areas.  That's a major reason why the bill never made it out of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the US Senate and never was introduced in the US House.  Instead of honestly listening to these concerns, Senator Tester apparently decided to work behind the scenes to attach his bill to this completely unrelated $1 trillion-plus spending bill that's nearly 2000 pages long.  It's unfortunate that Senator Tester has chosen such a questionable, and might say underhanded, tactic to pass his logging bill.

“Senator Tester likes to say this is a jobs bill for the timber industry, but new home construction in America is down 70% and overall wood consumption is down 50%.  Just where are all these forests Senator Tester wants cut down going to end up? The fact is that the Forest Service ended 2009 with more timber volume under contract to loggers and mills in our region than any point in the last decade, but still mills either closed or have dramatically reduced their work force because of the economic crisis, which drags on with little relief in sight.”

Statement from Tom France, Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation: 

“There are many supporters, including most of the timber industry and most of conservation community.  What some call underhanded tactics, others would call good and effective legislating by an elected politician doing his job.” 

I’ll continue to update this post as I receive more comments on about the bill.

UPDATE: I just received this comment for Michael Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies:

"Senator Tester broke two campaign promises today. When Senator Tester ran against Senator Burns, he promised to protect all roadless areas and not use riders for public lands legislation. Senator Tester's rider opens up one million acres of the best elk hunting in Montana roadless lands to clearcutting and thanks to Senator Tester we can kiss grizzly bears in the Cabinet Yack, the smallest grizzly bear population in the world, goodbye. Not only will this rider open up roadless lands to clearcutting but it will cost taxpayers a fortune. The Forest Service loses about $1400 per acre on their timber program.

“Senator Tester mandates that 70,000 acres be logged in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and 30,000 acres in the Kootenai National Forest. This $140,000,000 gift to the timber industry is nothing more than corporate welfare.”

So far I have received little word from groups who support Tester’s move to include the FJRI in the omnibus bill. As Tom France’s comments above indicate, there are indeed many supporters out there. Please e-mail your comments to mtlowdown(at)gmail.com, or post them in the comments section.

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