July 15, 2004
Sen. John Kerry’s plan to combat wildfire risks repackages what already is in law and is a "pathetic" attempt to court Western voters, Republicans said Wednesday in criticizing the proposal from the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.
The healthy forest plan released Tuesday by Kerry, DMass., is scant on specifics, said former Republican Gov. Marc Racicot of Montana, currently the campaign chairman for the re-election campaign of President Bush. What few details that are in the plan virtually mirror reforms in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act which passed Congress last year on a lopsided, bipartisan vote, he said.
Both Kerry and his vicepresidential running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., missed that vote in the Senate last October. The bill passed the Senate 80-14.
"It really is a pathetic attempt to present something in an attempt to make up for a flawed position," Racicot said in a conference call with the media arranged by the Bush campaign. "Obviously he missed the vote and didn’t read the bill."
Paul Babbitt, a Democratic candidate for the congressional district that encompasses northern Arizona, agreed there is little difference between the Kerry proposal and the Healthy Forest Restoration Act signed by Bush in December.
"I haven’t seen those differences," said Babbitt, who held a news conference in Prescott to endorse the Kerry proposal and was offered as a surrogate speaker by Kerry’s Arizona campaign.
Babbitt said Kerry’s plan is not to replace the healthy forest legislation passed year, but to supplement it.
Though Kerry missed the Senate vote, he did oppose the new law, said Sue Walitsky, Arizona spokeswoman for the campaign.
Kerry’s proposal does not call for the repeal of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. The only specific change outlined by Kerry would commit a larger percentage of the funding for forest treatments to areas near communities. The bill signed by Bush requires at least half of the money spent on forest treatments be spent near developed areas. The Kerry plan would raise that to 70 percent. The balance is spent for treatments deeper in the woods.
The Kerry plan makes reference to ensuring "the fundamental right of citizens to access the courts," but does not explain what that means.
The law passed by Congress creates a mechanism to streamline the normal planning, public hearing and appeals process for certain public land deemed at high risk of wildfire. It was passed to expedite forest treatments like clearing thickets of trees and ground debris in areas primed for large wildfires, such as the Rodeo-Chediski fires that blackened nearly a half-million acres in eastern Arizona two years ago.
So far this year, Arizona has had 1,434 fires on 211,662 acres, according to federal statistics.
Bush and congressional supporters of the new law argued that a litany of overlapping laws and litigation by environmental groups had brought efforts to thin forests to a standstill.
Kerry proposed creating a Forest Restoration Corps using $100 million he said currently is going to subsidize the timber industry. The corps would be a public works program to pay people, generally young adults, to work on forest restoration projects.
Babbitt said that would be an opportunity for people to get involved in a public service project while benefitting the forests. Asked why that would be better than paying people in the private sector to do the work, Babbitt said it probably would not make much difference in improving the condition of the forests.
Kerry also said he would guarantee the $760 million for forest treatments called for in the new law would be fully funded. Racicot said Bush has proposed full funding of forest restoration projects in his 2005 budget.