Trump's Response to Deadly Wildfires: Log the Trees
November 24, 2018
Timothy Cama / The Hill
The Trump administration is pointing to the deadly California wildfires to renew its call for Congress to boost the administration's ability to remove more brush and trees from federal forests. Ignoring the evidence that increasingly deadly wildfires are linked to climate change, Trump's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claimed the fires were caused by "radical environmentalists . . . [who] would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree."
Trump Officials Cite California Fires
In Renewing Call for Forest Logging Policies
Timothy Cama / The Hill
WASHINGTON (November 20, 2018) -- The Trump administration is pointing to the deadly California wildfires to renew its call for Congress to boost the administration's ability to remove more brush and trees from federal forests.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters Tuesday that the fires, which have killed more than 80 people so far, should spur lawmakers to adopt more "active forest management" policies -- a term that refers to increased logging, removing brush, conducting planned burns and other activities.
"The issue, really, right now is: What are we going to do about it?" Perdue said. "These are disasters that we can do some things about. We need to be about doing things that we can do, but we need the authority to do that."
"This is fixable," Zinke added. "It is absolutely a situation that can be mitigated, but we need to act. It's unsustainable and unacceptable that we have the devastation, the loss of life, the expense."
Zinke renewed his denunciation of "radical environmentalists." He blamed them for the extreme fires, claiming greens repeatedly sue to stop forest management activities like prescribed burns.
"When lawsuit after lawsuit, by, yes, the radical environmental groups that would rather burn down the entire forest than cut a single tree or thin the forests," he said.
A 2010 Government Accountability Office study found that only about 2 percent of Forest Service decisions on fuel reduction went to court, representing about 1.2 percent of the areas that the agency had approved for management projects.
Negotiators from the House and Senate are hashing out a deal to renew federal agricultural programs, which include forestry programs in the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Perdue and Zinke want lawmakers to stick with numerous provisions in the House version providing new exemptions to the National Environmental Policy Act for some activities and allowing for new partnerships with local governments so that they can manage forests, potentially avoiding federal litigation.
"We're not talking about clear-cutting. We're talking about good forest management that makes sense for homes and beautifies the forests, for water quality, watershed protection, wildlife and other recreational activities as well," Perdue said.
The Senate rejected most of the House's forestry provisions in its version of the farm bill.
The House's version included multiple controversial provisions, such as expanding opportunities for loggers to remove trees after fires, doubling the size of areas that could be exempt from environmental review for logging, loosening rules protecting imperiled species from forest management practices and letting some roads get built in areas that were previously protected.
To conservation groups, the exclusions from environmental review are the most harmful pieces of the House bill.
"Such 'categorical exclusions' prevent public involvement in national forest management, eliminate a thorough review of the effects of government actions, and erode public confidence in public land management," a green coalition wrote to lead Senate negotiators last month.
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) welcomed the new push from the administration, saying better forest management can put a significant dent in fires.
"The farm bill is a perfect vehicle to enact strong forest management reforms that will help reduce the risk of severe wildfire and minimize tragedies from happening again," he said in a statement. "I applaud President Trump and the administration for working to press these needed reforms, and I urge negotiators to include them in the final bill."
House Democrats Demand
Records on Trump's Climate Rollbacks
Timothy Cama / The Hill
WASHINGTON (November 20, 2018) -- Leading House Democrats, weeks away from taking over the majority in the lower chamber, are demanding records and information from the Trump administration's rollbacks of numerous climate change policies at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), slated to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter Tuesday to acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler seeking answers as to why the agency is weakening or eliminating rules meant to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, cars, and oil and natural gas drillers.
The letter is likely an opening salvo to more extensive investigations that the Democrats are planning after Jan. 3, when the new Congress is sworn in and they have the majority of the seats.
The majority will give Pallone the committee's gavel, as well as the ability to set the agenda, compel witnesses to testify and demand documents with subpoenas.
For now, however, Pallone and the top Democrats on two subcommittees -- Reps. Paul Tonko (N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) -- are just asking questions.
Despite dire climate warnings like a recent United Nations report, "EPA has engaged in the systematic dismantling of critical climate initiatives and public health protections," they wrote.
"Furthermore, EPA continues to champion policies that would result in massive increases in greenhouse gas emissions with no regard for the associated climate or public health impacts," the lawmakers continued.
"Combined, the administration's rollbacks willfully turn a blind eye to the dangers of climate change, putting American communities at risk and diverting EPA's mission to protect human health and the environment."
The letter also provides a window into the EPA policies that the Democrats are likely to focus their attention on. It scrutinizes the proposals to repeal the Clean Power Plan and replace it with a far weaker alternative that environmentalists say could increase greenhouse gas emissions, to repeal future plans to increase car fuel efficiency standards, and to repeal methane emissions standards for oil and natural gas drillers.
Pallone and the likely chairmen of the Natural Resources and Science subcommittees announced last week plans to hold two days of hearings on climate change early next year.
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