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23.5.03

The obvious interpretation for skeptics of Bush's Healthy Forests plan (discussed in the previous post) is that he's using the threat of wildfires as an excuse to give a bonus to logging companies, allowing them to get around environmental regulations that protect our forests. Then I ran across this interesting bit of information, via Earth Blog:

Probe: Most Forest Projects Not Delayed

Few projects to reduce wildfire threats were long delayed because of environmental challenges, congressional auditors say. The conclusion runs counter to the case the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress have made for scaling back studies and appeals.

The General Accounting Office (news - web sites) found that three-fourths of the 762 Forest Service projects to cut wildfire risk in the past two years went ahead without any challenge. That allowed treatment such as logging or controlled burning on 3.8 million acres of national forests.

Projects that were challenged by environmental groups or other parties generally move ahead within 90 days, according to the report by the investigative arm of Congress.


So the problem that Bush is trying to solve for logging companies doesn't really exist. The rules he wants to weaken don't pose much of a barrier to logging (and hence the bill won't have much impact on the health of our forests, either). But if nobody gains much from the plan, why is he pushing it? My suspicion is that this is -- like ANWR drilling, which is only a tiny drop in the bucket for oil companies because of the size of the reserves and the expense of extracting them -- a symbolic victory. It goes over well with those small-government and pro-business voters who think environmental regulation has gone too far but don't know enough about the particular situation of the logging industry (which certainly isn't going to be complaining about the change) to realize how little the bill actually accomplishes. And it gives Congress momentum in the direction of rolling back environmental regulations.

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