Republicans want more hearings before a moratorium temporarily ends road construction in national forests.
Lots of hearings.
A proposal co-sponsored by U.S. Reps. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, and George Nethercutt, R-Wash., would require the U.S. Forest Service to hold more than 120 hearings - one for each national forest - before the moratorium begins.
The House Resources Committee approved the bill Wednesday on an 18-14 party-line vote.
“This bill would force the Forest Service to stop and listen to local concerns before implementing the plan,” Chenoweth said in a statement.
But the moratorium is needed to stop road construction long enough to repair the old roads, Democrats argued. The Forest Service has more than 300,000 miles of roads in disrepair and enough forest roads to circle the globe 16 times, they said.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said the moratorium is a smart decision that is urgently needed. But the hearings bill “makes no sense” because the Forest Service already has taken public comment on its plan, he said.
The Forest Service plans an 18-month moratorium on road construction in national forests. The Chenoweth-Nethercutt bill would suspend the moratorium until a hearing is held in each national forest. Residents could voice their opinions, and the agency would have to report to Congress.
Republicans said the process could be completed in 60 days. Democrats said the bill could cancel the moratorium.
The Forest Service scheduled 25 forums on the moratorium, two of which were held in Idaho this month.
The bill would provide a more official process for public comment, said Chenoweth spokesman Chad Hyslop.
Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., who wrote the bill, said Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck has neglected to discuss the moratorium with forest managers, leaving them unaware of the effects it would have on local forest roads and activities.
If managers don’t understand the moratorium, Peterson said, citizens can’t be expected to understand it and respond to it.
Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, accused the Clinton administration of “thumbing their nose at Congress” with the moratorium. He sees it as an attempt to bring a permanent end to logging on forest land.
Opponents of the bill said the Forest Service has given citizens plenty of chances to respond. In addition to the 25 hearings around the country, there is a Web site to send in comments.
“This is just an effort to intimidate the Forest Service,” said Bruce Vento, D-Minn.
The full House will debate the bill later.