2003 Scorecard Vote
Years of fire suppression on national forest lands in western states and the growth of cities and towns near many national forests has resulted in several disastrous fire seasons that burned homes and communities. The White House proposed to use this tragic situation as a pretext for more logging in areas that did not pose a threat to homes and businesses, while environmentalists supported a fire policy that focused on removing hazardous brush in areas near communities. The White House initiative was introduced in the House as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (H.R. 1904) by Representative Scott McInnis (R-CO). Environmentalists criticized the bill on a number of fronts, arguing that it would promote the logging of large fire-resistant trees in the backcountry while doing little to protect the areas where people live. In addition, it eliminated the requirement in the cornerstone National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that agencies consider a "full range of alternatives" for projects with environmental impacts on up to 20 million acres of federal public land. It further undermined NEPA by creating a new category of projects to be excluded from NEPA review that could effectively exempt up to a quarter-million acres of federal forests.
The bill also interfered with due process and an independent judiciary. H.R. 1904 forced courts to review preliminary injunctions and stays on timber projects every 60 days and immediately inform four congressional committees whenever a preliminary injunction was renewed. It also allowed counties, states and citizens only 15 days to file a legal challenge, and required courts to favor the interests of federal agencies in deciding on preliminary injunctions.
Representatives George Miller (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and John Conyers (D-MI) offered a substitute amendment to H.R. 1904 that sought to protect homes and communities from the threat of wildfire without undermining public participation and environmental laws. The Miller-DeFazio-Rahall-Conyers substitute would have allocated 85 percent of the authorized funds for projects within a half mile of at-risk communities. While the amendment would have permitted NEPA exemptions within these half-mile community zones, it would have reinstated NEPA restrictions for any projects outside these zones. Moreover, the substitute amendment would have prohibited forest thinning projects in roadless areas of national forests.
On May 20, 2003, the House rejected the Miller-DeFazio-Rahall-Conyers amendment by a 184-239 vote (House roll call vote 198). YES is the pro-environment vote. Later that day, the House approved final passage of the bill by a 256-170 vote (House roll call vote 200). NO is the pro-environment vote. The Senate subsequently passed its version of the "Healthy Forests" initiative (Senate votes 5 and 9) and the bill was signed by the president.