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 had 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. Unfortunately, the White House and the timber industry prevailed, with the House rejecting a pro-environment substitute bill and passing a bill based on the president's so-called "Healthy Forests" initiative (H.R. 1904) in the spring (House votes 5 and 6). While the Senate version of the bill was billed as a bipartisan compromise, conservationists criticized it for weakening environmental laws and judicial independence and for failing to require agencies to adequately prioritize protection of homes and communities in areas at risk for wildfires. Conservationists also contended that, by promoting the harvesting of large fire-resistant trees far from communities and by encouraging the building of new access roads, the bill would actually increase the risk of catastrophic fires.
The Senate version of H.R. 1904 undermined environmental review for logging projects on up to 20 million acres and, on another quarter million acres, eliminated reviews for certain projects up to 1,000 acres in size. Moreover, the bill eliminated administrative appeals of final agency decisions, making it more difficult for Americans to challenge damaging projects and have a meaningful say in public land management. In addition, the Senate bill forced courts to renew preliminary injunctions on timber projects every 60 days. Finally, H.R. 1904 sought to weaken the most important part of National Environmental Policy Act--the requirement that agencies consider a full range of alternatives to agency proposals that have environmental impacts such as logging and road building. Instead, the bill only required agencies to analyze their proposed logging projects against a single no-action alternative.
On October 30, 2003, the Senate passed their version of H.R. 1904 by a vote of 80-14 (Senate roll call vote 428). NO is the pro-environmental vote. The House and Senate passed their conference report on the forest fire bill in November and the president signed the bill into law in early December 2003.