In This Issue
The Bush administration has issued broad new rules overhauling the guidelines
for managing the nation’s 155 national forests and making it easier for regional
forest managers to decide whether to allow logging, drilling or off-road
The long-awaited rules relax longstanding provisions on environmental reviews
and the protection of wildlife on 191 million acres of national forest and
grasslands. They also cut back on requirements for public participation in
forest planning decisions.
Forest Service officials said the rules were intended to give local foresters
more flexibility to respond to scientific advances and threats like intensifying
wildfires and invasive species. They say the regulations will also speed up
decisions, ending what some public and private foresters see as a legal and
regulatory gridlock that has delayed forest plans for years because of
litigation and requirements for time-consuming studies.
Environmental groups said the new rules pared down protections that were a
hallmark of the 1976 National Forest Management Act.
The new rules incorporate an ‘Environmental Management System’ approach that
has gained favor in private industries from electronics to medical device
manufacturing. The practice, used by companies like Apple Computer, allows
businesses to set their own environmental goals and practices and then subjects
them to an outside audit that judges their success.
In the case of the Forest Service, the supervisors of the individual forests
and grasslands will shape forest management plans, and the effects of those will
be subject to independent audits.
The auditors the Forest Service chooses could range from other Forest Service
employees to outsiders, said Sally Collins, an associate chief at the Forest
Service. She said the auditors could come from an environmental group or an
industry group like timber “or a ski area, local citizens or a private
The Bush administration’s legislative proposal to amend the Clean Air
Act must first gain momentum in the Senate before action on the bill
will begin in the House, according to the top House member with
jurisdiction over air pollution issues.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
Committee, said that his top priorities for the 109th Congress would
center on the telecommunications industry and health care, rather than
Clean Air Act legislation. But Barton also indicated he would consider
moving a Clean Air Act bill if the Senate showed a clear interest in the
In the Senate, Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee Chairman Jim
Inhofe (R-OK) is expected to reintroduce the administration’s air
pollution bill, also known as the Clear Skies initiative, in the coming
weeks. Inhofe also plans to hold hearings on Clear Skies in January,
with a markup for the legislation at some point before the President’s
Day recess that begins Feb. 21.
But despite his fast-paced schedule, Inhofe will be hard pressed to move
Clear Skies if it is offered in similar form to existing versions. Even
with Republican gains in last November’s election, the current makeup of
the EPW panel indicates that Clear Skies would likely be stymied next
year in a 9-9 tie with Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) voting along with all
panel Democrats against the bill, namely because it fails to address
carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.
Additionally, a key swing member of the EPW Committee, Sen. Max Baucus
(D-MT), said that he would only support air pollution legislation that
deals with carbon dioxide emissions.
Should an EPW Committee vote end in a tie, Capitol Hill aides from both
sides of the aisle have said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN)
could move Clear Skies directly to the floor.
A full Senate vote on Clear Skies could be close, with a majority of
Republicans and some conservative Democrats aligning themselves to
support its passage. But any strategy that fast tracks Clear Skies out
of the EPW panel could be easily thwarted if Senate Democrats unite to
filibuster floor consideration of the bill.
Numerous pieces of ocean legislation are likely to be introduced in the
109th Congress, as members grapple with how to respond to the U.S.
Commission on Ocean Policy report as well as the White House response to
The Ocean Commission found federal oversight is too fractured to protect
ocean ecosystems that are being decimated by pollution, overfishing and
other factors. Among 200 recommendations, the commission called for
consolidating management responsibilities within the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration and significantly boosting federal ocean
The report generated a slew of bills late in the 108th Congress, and
most of them are likely to be reintroduced.
Members are currently taking stock of the Bush administration’s reaction
to the report, which took the form of an “Ocean Action Plan” issued late
last month. As part of the plan, President Bush signed an executive
order creating a new Cabinet-level “Committee on Ocean Policy” to
coordinate federal ocean policy.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily; Greenwire; Washington Post; New York Times