Moderate Republicans rallied with environmentalists in the House on Friday to hand a surprising defeat to Western conservatives who had proposed logging and other projects to ease fire threats in national forests.
On a 201-181 vote, the House defeated the “Forest Recovery and Protection Act of 1998” by Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
The League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups led a charge against the bill, and the Clinton administration had threatened to veto it, saying it would accelerate logging under the guise of improving forest health.
“The administration has said in no uncertain terms this bill would be vetoed. Every single environmental group … vehemently opposes this bill,” said New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, one of the 51 Republicans who voted against the measure.
“It is not about forest health. It is about a waste of taxpayer money and a devastation of our national forests,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.
Smith had been confident the bill would pass, but the defections among GOP moderates proved too much to overcome, partly because 48 House members were absent, having already left town for the weekend.
“With this vote we just redefined the forest health debate by declaring that logging is not the cure,” said Marty Hayden of the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.
“Rep. Smith was trying to peddle a logging industry bill as a forest health initiative, but Congress wasn’t buying it,” added Ken Rait, conservation director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
Smith said the Forest Service needed to be pushed by Congress to initiate the special forest treatments, ranging from logging to intentional setting of fires.
“Environmental laws have shut down logging in the Pacific Northwest. Please give us the opportunity to nurture and care for this resource. To let it burn is a huge waste,” Smith said in the spirited floor debate.
This sidebar appeared with the story: VOTE COUNT How state lawmakers voted: Republicans Dunn, Y; Hastings, Y; Metcalf, Y; Nethercutt, Y; Smith, Linda, Y; White, N. Democrats - Dicks, N; McDermott, didn’t vote; Smith, Adam, N.