Alaska's congressional delegation is battling to keep riders in a massive national spending bill that would allow more logging in the Tongass National Forest and move toward oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A rider from Republican Sen. Ted Stevens would prohibit appeals of a pending Forest Service decision on whether to set aside new wilderness areas in the 16.8 million-acre Tongass forest.
Three new forest riders prepared by Republican Rep. Don Young would go further.
One would prevent environmentalists from appealing anything in the 1997 Tongass management plan at least until a new plan is prepared. A second rider would exempt Alaska from the so-called roadless rule, a Clinton administration measure that bans logging or other development in roadless parcels of at least 5,000 acres. A third provision would amend a Forest Service directive included in the Tongass Timber Reform Act. Instead of being directed to "seek to meet" market demand for timber, the amendment would direct the agency to "meet" market demand.
Owen Graham, director of the Ketchikan-based Alaska Timber Association, said his group turned to Alaska's federal lawmakers to remove what it sees as legal and administrative roadblocks to timber sales.
"The industry is on the verge of collapse," he said.
Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the Juneau-based Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, said such proposals place logging above all other interests.
"Salmon are the losers. Fishermen are the losers. Subsistence. Recreation. Tourism," she said.
A spokeswoman for Stevens said the senator would have no comment until the spending bill passes in the House-Senate conference committee. Young's office also had no comment.
The lawmakers are trying to put or keep the riders, a term for unrelated amendments attached to a larger measure, on the giant 2003 appropriations bill. House and Senate negotiators, including Stevens, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, are hashing out a compromise $396 billion spending package financing nearly every federal agency for the rest of the year.
In addition to Tongass riders, Stevens is pushing for language to provide money for "pre-drilling" in ANWR despite a two-decade-old ban on oil exploration there.
Opening ANWR to drilling for oil and natural gas is the centerpiece of President Bush's energy policy. The Senate voted against the idea last year and Democrats have vowed to use delaying filibuster tactics to block a vote on the measure this year.
Stevens led Senate Republicans on Monday night in protecting the provisions that would open more areas in Alaska and national forests throughout the West to new logging.
Today, a group of moderate House Republicans joined Democrats in an effort to block what they said would be weakening of environmental protections.
"It would seriously undermine the legislative process to add new provisions behind closed doors and at the very last minute to a must-pass spending bill that is already four months late," the eight GOP lawmakers said in a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, a Florida Republican.
The letter was signed by House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert of New York, Reps. Mike Castle of Delaware, Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Jim Leach of Iowa, Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sue Kelly of New York.