By LIZ RUSKIN
May 22, 2006
The Forest Service has lost an average of $40 million a year - and $48 million last year - to subsidize a dying logging industry that employs only 300 Alaskans, the sponsors of the measure said.
"Think of that: (for) every job, $150,000 in taxpayer subsidies for that one job," said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. He said he's all for logging "but not when the taxpayers are being ripped off."
The vote was 237-181. Most of the Democrats and 68 Republicans voted for it.
Alaska Congressman Don Young said he was "adamantly opposed to this sneaky amendment."
He said it violated the spirit of representative government, because it affects only his state, and he didn't want it.
Taking a page from Sen. Ted Stevens' playbook, Young said he would make note of who voted against him and retaliate in future legislation.
"Each one of you, think about this, in this room: This should be a representative form of government, and what you're doing is dead wrong, and I shall not forget it," he said.
Environmentalists have lobbied Congress for decades to reduce logging in the Tongass, a temperate rain forest covering most of Southeast Alaska. They've won most of the battles, aided by a soft market for Tongass timber. The industry is a shadow of its former self.
In recent years, environmentalists have sought to cut off funds to build the logging roads the Forest Service says it needs to support timber sales. They cite one recent project in which the government paid $2.9 million for a logging road to get to timber that a logging company paid just $107,000 to cut down.
Forest Service officials take issue with the figures environmentalists use. The Tongass timber program cost just $24 million - not $48 million - last year, the Forest Service says. But there's no dispute that loggers paid the Forest Service a tiny fraction of that for the trees they took: about $400,000.
Young, a 17-term Republican, protested that the House was targeting 300 of his constituents.
"What's happening here is you're trying to put the last remaining - the last remaining - few Alaskans that are trying to make a very meager living - 300 jobs - and take it away from them, for the environmentalists," he said.
Many of the Republicans who voted for the amendment are moderates who always side with the Democrats on environmental issues. Some are dedicated fiscal conservatives never accused of favoring Greenpeace. A couple have been closely allied with Young in the past.
Opponents have taken to calling the Tongass logging roads the "roads to nowhere" - a spin-off of the pair of proposed Alaska bridge that ignited an uproar last year.
Young said colleagues can expect a dose of their own medicine next year. He plans to write a similar amendment to restrict funds for forests in Ohio, New Jersey and the other states of amendment supporters, he said.
His words were reminiscent of Stevens' fiery speeches over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and funding the so-called "bridges to nowhere." Stevens, at various times, has argued that it breached Senate principles to single Alaska out for unfavorable treatment, that he was taking names, and he has suggested opponents of his position would face political repercussions.
"People who vote against this today are voting against me - and I will not forget it," Stevens said during an ANWR debate a few years ago.
But Young did not threaten to resign or to collapse, as Stevens did last year. The House narrowly passed a similar Tongass amendment two years ago, but it was dropped from the final version of the bill. The measure is less popular in the Senate, so it could meet the same fate this time.
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com
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