October 31, 2011

Protecting Forest Jobs And The Communities That Rely On Them

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

From the kitchen table to the halls of Congress, unemployment is the top priority for America's policymakers and families.  In Washington, D.C., this discussion is often consumed by politics and partisan bickering.  But, in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, the discussion about jobs often comes back to the natural resource industries, such as forestry, that help to build and sustain our region.  However, a recent court decision dealing with forest roads poses yet another major obstacle, which if left unaddressed, could eliminate even more jobs on our forests.

In August, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the 9 thCircuit ruled in NEDC v. Brown that logging road runoff, when channeled through a system of ditches and culvertsand deposited into nearby rivers and streams, is point-source pollution and therefore falls under the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act.  This ruling overturned a 36-year-old program, known as the Silviculture Rule, under which the Environmental Protection Agency deferred to the individual states to regulate this type of runoff.   

This decision will bring new controversy to state, federal and private forests and will, for the first time, subject state and private forests to the same conflict and controversy that have plagued federally managed forests for decades.  More jobs on our forests will be lost, putting even more rural communities in jeopardy.  It will also turn back the clock on many of the collaborative efforts that have been undertaken to address the most pressing natural resource challenges in the region.  Litigation is not the solution, and we cannot solve our problems if all of our time is spent fighting in court.  If this decision were to go into effect, those hard-fought efforts would be in serious jeopardy. 

On July 7, 2011, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies passed a bill written by Subcommittee ChairmanMike Simpson (R-Idaho) to fund the Department of Interior and related agencies for Fiscal Year 2012.  Representative Simpson included in that bill a provision to overturn the 9 th Circuit's decision in NEDC v. Brown.  On July 12, 2011, the House Appropriations Committee passed the legislation.

On July 14, I introduced S. 1369, the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, with Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) to overturn the ruling in NEDC v. Brown.  On the same day, Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington) and Curt Schrader (D-Oregon) introduced identical legislation, co-sponsored by Representatives Simpson and Raul Labrador, in the U.S. House of Representatives.  A bipartisan, multi-regional consensus is being built on this issue in Congress because Members of Congress of all stripes know that this decision will be a job killer.  This bipartisan, bicameral effort will continue to be essential in ensuring that the legislation is passed by the full House of Representatives and the Senate and signed into law by the President. 

We need to be focused on solving long-standing controversies as opposed to starting new ones.  Redrawing the old battle lines and retreating into our corners will only add to the problems plaguing our forests, ranging from poor forest health to under-management and excessive, pointless litigation.  Instead, we need to pass this legislation and get back to the serious business of working collaboratively to solve long-standing natural resource conflicts, like we did with the Owyhee Initiative and the Idaho Roadless Rule, and like we are doing right now with the Clearwater Basin Collaborative.  Collaboration can be long and challenging, but we have tried the other way and all it has done is get us to a stalemate.  We have to work together, and we must get started now. 

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