This morning, we heard huffing and puffing in the Senate about the so-called “healthy forests initiative.” The senior senator from Idaho went so far as to accuse “the junior senator from New Mexico,” Jeff Bingaman, of holding up this legislation for purely political purposes. That is absolutely untrue – Bingaman was not one of several senators who objected to the bill coming to the floor today. In fact, his position is clear: he supports the bill being allowed to come to the floor, with no restrictions. He would also support it coming up with some restrictions, as long as his forest-related amendments could be considered. Those of you who track forests issues can read for yourself what he said today and yesterday (below). Bingaman was not on the floor when he was assailed, but Assistant Democratic Leader Harry Reid was. Reid reacted swiftly: “Jeff Bingaman is a man of intellect, Harvard-educated. He has a fine legal mind. He is one of the finest senators we have in this body, and he has some problems with this legislation. So I would hope that everyone understand that Senator Bingaman is trying to come forward with what he believes are some serious questions about the way this legislation is moved.” Like many senators, especially those from those from Western states that have suffered so much from horrific wildfires, Sen. Bingaman wants to see Congress resolve this issue and pass legislation this year, and has said so many times. STATEMENT OF SENATOR JEFF BINGAMAN FOREST HEALTH -- Thursday, 9/23 “Madame President, let me speak very briefly just in response to the comments the senator from Idaho made this morning on the Healthy Forest legislation. “The history is that the bill did get referred to the Agriculture Committee. I thought that was a mistake. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has always had primary jurisdiction over most of the issues dealt with within that amendment, but a bill was reported out. Following that, a group of senators -- the senator from Idaho included -- got together on a bipartisan basis to develop their own alternative or their own proposal. That is what is intended to be brought to the Senate floor. My staff, the staff of the Democratic side of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was not included in those negotiations. I complained about that. They were told they could observe, but not participate in any meaningful way. And they did that to some extent. “I do believe it’s important we have a full opportunity for amendment to this bill. I’ve stated that. I do not object to the bill coming up. I do not object to us proceeding with an agreement to limit what we do to the amendment that is related to the bill. I think that would be an appropriate way to proceed. It’s an important issue. We ought to deal with it before Congress adjourns this fall. I think there are problems with the bill, as I understand it, and I also have a great many questions that I would like to have answers to about the meaning of some of the language in the bill. Those are legitimate issues. “I believe that we can have full and fair opportunity for senators to debate, and a full and fair opportunity for senators to offer amendments. I know that the Assistant Democratic Leader, Senator Reid, did suggest that we proceed to bring the bill up. There would be no objection to that. And certainly I think that would be an appropriate way to proceed. “So, with that, I appreciate the chance to explain my own point of view and my own position, and I yield the floor.” STATEMENT OF SENATOR JEFF BINGAMAN FOREST HEALTH -- Wednesday, 9/22 “Thank you Mr. President, I wanted to speak for just a few minutes about the so-called “healthy forests initiative” that was discussed earlier this week. “Earlier this week, there was a unanimous consent request made to proceed to H.R. 1904, the so-called “healthy forests initiative.” The unanimous consent request sought to limit debate on the bill to a specified list of amendments to be offered by particular Senators. Included in that list were two amendments that were purported to be offered or suggested to be offered by me. I have never spoken to anybody about my intent with regard to offering amendments on this, and I certainly have not agreed to any particular amendments that I wanted to offer. Therefore, I had real concerns with that unanimous consent request. Because the proposed unanimous consent request would have limited me to offering certain amendments that I had not previously heard about, obviously I would have objected had not other Senators done so. “This is an important issue that the Senate needs to try to address this year. I do not favor delaying that consideration. There is always a threat that we have seen in the West, particularly in recent years, of unnaturally intense catastrophic wildfire. That is a threat to many of our communities and millions of acres of public lands and forests. It was alleged earlier this week by some of the bill’s supporters that those who did not agree to the unanimous consent request did not favor active management of the national forests. I wanted to be clear in my statement this morning that I certainly do not fall in that category. I do not think we should just let “nature take its course.” I do think we should pursue active management but what I want to be sure of is that the bill we finally enact provides meaningful new authority to our Federal land managers; is focused on the communities that are the most threatened by wildfire; and does not unduly restrict the public’s right to participate and have oversight in the management of these lands. “I am aware that a deal of some sort has been developed by certain Senators. I was not involved in the negotiations that led to the deal. Its provisions are complicated and complex, and I have a number of questions about the ramifications of some of those provisions, especially the ones dealing with judicial review and such issues. “I think there should be a hearing. That would be the right way to proceed. We have new legislative language so we should hold a hearing where we can hear testimony on these provisions and have a better understanding of them. I have asked for such a hearing. I hope that will occur. I believe that having a clearer understanding on what the amendment means and encouraging constructive suggestions would be a preferable course for us to pursue. “I do think there are serious questions regarding this new language. It differs substantially from the bill that was reported by the Agriculture Committee. Some of the major issues raised by the amendment include a lack of any new funding to reduce hazardous fuels; failure to eliminate the harmful agency policy of borrowing from proactive forest restoration accounts to pay for firefighting; curtailing public participation in the management of public lands, including the establishment of a new so-called “pre-decisional” review process; limitations on judicial review; creating new standards for injunctions issued by Federal courts; and lack of protection for National Monuments, roadless areas, and other environmentally sensitive areas. As far as I can tell, none of these issues have been adequately addressed in the proposed amendment and for that reason I think we need to have an opportunity to offer amendments. “I hope the Senate can consider forest health legislation this year. Like many Senators, especially those from western States that have suffered in recent years from catastrophic wildfire, I very much want to see us resolve this issue as best we can. But we should do so under conditions that allow for amendments and full debate.
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