Earlier in the year, it appeared some action was going to be taken. In April, three U.S. representatives joined forces and introduced House Resolution 5192, which became known as the Forest Ecosystem Recovery and Protection Act. The bill’s sponsor, Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), sits on both the House Natural Resources Committee and House Agriculture Committee, which is where the bill was referred after introduction. In the Natural Resources Committee, hearings have been held, but still no vote has been taken. No action has been taken in the Agriculture Committee.
So what is the Forest Ecosystem Recovery and Protection Act? It calls for the Secretary of Agriculture to identify portions of national forests as sites for demonstration projects to “prevent and mitigate the effect of pine beetle infestations.” The resolution even calls for the emergency removal of dead and dying trees throughout the West. But still, as the forests burn, the bill remains stagnant.
Lummis’ bill, which is sponsored by fellow Republicans Bob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and Mike Coffman of Colorado, does not have the support of the Obama administration. At the heart of the administration’s unwillingness to support the bill are provisions that exempt private utility companies that have rights of way through national forests from paying for any of the costs of tree removal and repair. Essentially, the administration does not want taxpayers picking up the tab for utility companies that haven’t managed their own property. This utility vs. taxpayer divide is the same rift that kept lawmakers from compromising on a climate bill earlier in the year. And while the Gulf oil spill didn’t move anyone inside the Beltway to address the nation’s lack of energy policy, a burning forest in the West is likely to have the same impotent effect on the pine beetle situation.
Compounding Washington’s inaction is a study from the University of Wisconsin. Preliminary reports from the study
say that the millions of downed trees caused by the pine beetle infestation throughout the West do not contribute to forest fires. So while Washington probably doesn’t need an excuse to do nothing about the epidemic, it appears it has one.