One of the privileges of controlling the White House, as well as both houses of Congress, is the leverage that control provides in making policy changes. The m.o. of the current power structure points to a gradual pullback in the rules passed by the previous administration.
Farm-related examples would include:
--delaying for two years the implementation of country-of-origin labeling.
--allowing the government two years instead of one to make livestock grazing decisions on public lands.
--and, this week, signing into law a new forest management plan that seems to emphasize a "hands off" approach to government oversight.
Congress is no stranger to bills authorizing the thinning of National Forests to reduce fire danger. With recent exception, those measures have languished in obscurity. Even so, the death of 28 firefighters and the destruction of more than 3,600 homes, as well as 750-thousand acres of prime California real estate, may have been the trigger for the enactment of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.
President George W. Bush: "I'm honored to sign this piece of legislation. I'm honored to be here to sign the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003."
Provisions in the bill include:
-The thinning of 20 million acres of the 190-million the Forest Service has identified as "at risk."
-A loosening of the rules on the environmental analysis for thinning projects.
-A reduction in the time allowed for filing legal injunctions.
-and the establishment of a biomass grant program to help entrepreneurs find other uses for chips and small limbs.
The Act authorizes the United States Forest Service to spend $760 million per year, over the next 10 years, on the various programs spelled out in the bill. Half of the total budget must be spent on projects near homes and communities.
The landmark forest legislation has not been without controversy. Detractors are concerned the measure promotes wholesale logging of old growth trees, opens up the forest to creation of roads in federally mandated "roadless" areas, and will be ineffective in reducing the risk of fire. They are further concerned the legislation could spawn another sham on the scale of the 1995 fire salvage logging debacle. In that year, it was revealed logging companies had been given government permission to cut undamaged trees in unburned regions of the National Forest.
For their part, proponents of the legislation point to restrictions on the number of acres to be cut, various stipulations that promote forest health, and a reduction in the risk for another major fire.