The War on The West

The War on The West

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

President Franklin Roosevelt, speaking before a joint session of Congress, requesting a Declaration of War against the Empire of Japan, December 8, 1941

What should we say about yesterday’s U.S. Senate failure to fix the Forest Service’s fire borrowing mess within the scope of its landmark two-year budget deal?

Do we say that, “Yesterday, February 7, 2018, a date which will live in infamy, the United States Senate suddenly and deliberately attacked the citizens of the 11 western states?”

It’s tempting.

Is it a stretch to say that the federal government’s long war against the rural West’s economy and environment has now spread into the West’s major cities?

It isn’t if last summer’s godawful wildfire season is the milepost by which we measure the U.S. Senate’s failure to fix its half of the fire borrowing fiasco.

At this writing, we don’t know how the House will vote, but it seems unlikely they will push the budget compromise off a cliff in an election year. Certainly not with House Republicans and President Trump in Democrat crosshairs.

Bear in mind, no new money was involved in the fire borrowing fix. The Senate was simply asked to move fire funding from the Forest Service’s budget to the same natural disaster account used to fund hurricane, tornado, flood and earthquake relief.

What made the funding list? Well, there was $90 billion in disaster relief for Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and a few other states; $2 billion to help to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands rebuild their electric grids; $2.4 billion for Florida citrus growers and farmers in other areas that suffered hurricane and wildfire damage, and $23.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recovery and repair fund.

We have long argued that the Forest Service’s fire fighting function ought to be handed over to FEMA, so the agency can refocus on its original mission: managing our National Forests.

The Forest Service disagrees, and given their quite remarkable firefighting history, we understand why they disagree. But much has changed, and the Forest Service is seriously understaffed at a time when Congress is unfortunately in no mood to increase its budget.

So, here we go again – still – with a seriously understaffed Forest Service that will, again this year, be forced to transfer dollars from its forest management account into its firefighting account.

Soon, half of the agency’s entire budget will be consumed by fire, leaving no money for restoring dying National Forests before they burn.

Why was the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” unable to come to agreement on the fire borrowing mess, despite the bi-partisan urging of western Senators?

Because western House and Senate members want some relief from the regulatory hellhole created by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. NEPA, signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, was a little over four pages long.

ESA, also signed by Nixon, in 1973, was 20 pages long. Both laws have morphed into thousands of pages of ambiguous rules and regulations that have become lucrative feeding grounds for environmental litigators whose work is paid for by taxpayers.

As we have written many times, litigation rarely involves actual environmental harm, but rather “process” violations rooted – again – in thousands of pages of rules and regulations that take years to decipher. One misstep and you are court.

It’s ridiculous, and every western House and Senate member knows it. No wonder they are pressing their colleagues – those who don’t choke on carcinogenic wildfire smoke for months on end every summer– to help fix the fire borrowing mess, and, more importantly, the regulatory hellhole that makes it virtually impossible for the Forest Service to do the restoration work needed to pull the West’s publicly treasured National Forests back from the brink of ecological collapse.

Do I think the U.S. Senate has declared war on the citizens of the 11 western states? A friend asked me this very question earlier today. After some hesitation, I replied, “Yes, I do, in a manner of speaking.”

“I do, too,” he said. “This summer there will surely be enough big wildfires in the West for you to name one after every one of the 100 members of the Senate.”

We shall see in due course.

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