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Fire Policy -- National Environmental Policy Act Waiver

Senate Roll Call No. 426
108th Congress, 1st Session

Agreed to: 57-34 (see complete tally)
Few conservation measures have had greater or more lasting effect than the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), dubbed “the Magna Carta of environmental protection” by the New York Times. Signed into law by President Nixon in 1969, NEPA mandates public participation in important environmental decisions and requires federal agencies to undertake extensive environmental reviews of any projects that could have an impact on natural resources.

The Bush administration has been working to undercut and scale back this cornerstone environmental law in a number of different contexts, including transportation planning and forest management. For example, President Bush’s so-called “Healthy Forests” initiative sought to use the emotional issue of wildfire as a smokescreen to gut NEPA’s environmental review requirements and allow widespread “thinning,” or logging, of national forests.

The Senate version of the “Healthy Forests” legislation waived environmental review for logging projects up to 1,000 acres in size and denied appeals of final agency decisions, making it more difficult for Americans to challenge damaging projects and have a meaningful say in public land management. It also sought to weaken the most important part of NEPA—the requirement that agencies consider a full range of alternatives to agency proposals with 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 and permitted agencies to further game the process should other alternatives be suggested by the public.

During Senate floor consideration of the bill, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced an amendment to restore the adequate-range-of-alternatives standard required by NEPA when conducting environmental reviews of forest thinning projects. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) then offered a motion to table (kill) the Cantwell amendment. On October 30, 2003, the Senate approved the motion to table by a 57-34 vote (Senate roll call vote 426) thereby defeating the Cantwell amendment. NO is the pro-environment vote. Later that day, the Senate approved final passage of H.R. 1904 (Senate vote 5). The House and Senate both passed the conference report on the forest fire bill in November and the president signed the bill into law in early December 2003.

Vote Map: Senate Roll Call No. 426
Votes For : 57
Votes Against : 34
Not Voting : 9


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