GOP not making the grade, greens say
Congressman Scott McInnis’ successful shepherding of a bill to allow more logging in national forests to battle the threat of wildfires didn’t earn him many friends among environmentalists.
McInnis, who represents Aspen and much of the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, received an “F” in a “Wilderness Report Card” released recently by a coalition of environmental groups focused on wilderness issues.
The report card assigned a grade between “A+” and “F” to the 535 members of Congress.
“I would hope that it is used by all voters in the upcoming election,” said Cindy Shogan, vice chairwoman of the American Wilderness Coalition.
She said the report card is meant to give voters an idea of how incumbents voted on important ecological issues. Shogan said more than 40 environmental groups gave advice on what issues to examine and procedures to follow when assigning a grade.
McInnis spokesman Blair Jones claimed the grading system has flaws. It fails to recognize ongoing contributions that McInnis has made, such as annual funding to buy land to add to Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Jones noted.
Because of those flaws, McInnis’ office says the report card lacks credibility.
Grades correlate with party
Some of the primary issues examined to assign grades to members of the House included gas and oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, fire and logging bills, and protection of roadless areas.
The grades for Colorado’s Congressional delegation somewhat suspiciously correlated with party affiliation. The two Democrats in the U.S. House received an “A+”. The five Republicans received an “F”.
U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell eked out a “D-” while Sen. Wayne Allard was given an “F”. Both are Republicans.
“It’s pretty black and white, I guess,” said Shogan, when the correlation between party affiliation and grades was pointed out.
In the national picture, Democrats also fared better in the American Wilderness Coalition’s grading system. In the Senate, 37 Republicans were given failing grades while only two Democrats received an “F”. On the other hand, 33 Democrats from the Senate scored an “A-” or better while only two Republicans received top marks.
In the House, 203 Republicans got an “F” while 10 Democrats failed. Another 164 Democrats received an “A-” or better while only 11 Republicans did.
Healthy Forest debate
McInnis and the wilderness advocates were at odds over the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. McInnis co-sponsored the bill and hailed it as a badly needed streamlining of rules on logging projects in national forests. McInnis said the U.S. Forest Service needed a quicker approval process for thinning projects that reduce the chances of catastrophic fires.
The bill that was enacted allows the Forest Service to approve projects with less review and makes it tougher for environmental groups to appeal decisions. It will also make more money available for thinning projects where forests abut populated areas.
The wilderness coalition slammed the legislation as a gift to timber companies. “Representative McInnis’ bill guts the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing the Forest Service to conduct large-scale, environmentally-damaging logging projects without considering any less environmentally harmful alternatives,” the Wilderness Report Card said.
The bill fails to focus on areas where homes and communities are at risk, the coalition claimed. Instead it opens 20 million acres of public lands to logging.
McInnis’ office countered that 190 million acres have been identified by public land managers as having “unnaturally high risk” of wildfire. Only 20 million acres that are closest to communities will be targeted for thinning.
Udall scores perfect grade
Rep. Mark Udall, whose 2nd Congressional District includes the Eagle County sliver of the Roaring Fork Valley, scored a perfect grade from the American Wilderness Coalition along with fellow Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette.
Udall was singled out for his efforts to prevent states and special interest groups from using an 1866 mining law to claim that abandoned trails and cow paths were actually “public roads.”
Udall lost that battle. Another congressman’s amendment in a bill allows the mining law, called R.S. 2477, to be used to claim public roads on 400 million acres of public lands. The battle over that law has now shifted to the courts.
Udall and DeGette also scored bonus points for their grades because they provide leadership on environmental issues, not only vote favorably on wilderness causes, according to the wilderness coalition.
Udall spokesman Lawrence Pacheco said the congressman appreciates the recognition as a “good steward of public lands.”
“Congressman Udall has a long tradition of protecting wilderness areas in our nation,” Pacheco said.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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