In his Aug. 9 Deseret News commentary, “How Congress can stop catastrophe before it starts,” Rep. Rob Bishop addressed the disastrous and deadly wildfires that have plagued Utah this summer, upping our air quality to the “dangerous” threshold this summer.
I fully agree with Bishop’s conclusion that we “must not allow the sacrifice of American land and lives to continue” and that we need to “get the job done and help our country’s forests thrive once again.” Rob’s plan, however, is entirely inadequate in getting that job anywhere close to done.
The centerpiece of the Bishop approach is the Resilient Federal Forest Act, which he called a “bold, bipartisan step” that passed the House but is languishing in the Senate. Bishop’s plan is to complain about Senate Republicans until they finally bring up his bill, which they are not at all likely to do.
But why not? Doesn’t it seem odd that the Senate would be blocking a “bipartisan” bill? The reality is that it’s a rigidly partisan bill that was supported by only 10 of 189 House Democrats — just over 5 percent of the total Democratic caucus. This bill was never going to make its way through the Senate, and Rob Bishop and the rest of the House Republicans knew that when they passed it.
The goal here was to pass a bill that had no chance of actually becoming law in order to provide the illusion of accomplishment. Bishop and his fellow Republicans forced through a bill that would provide them with political cover as they rail on the Senate for blocking passage, allowing them to wring their hands and blame a broken system for their inaction, as, all the while, the wildfires continue to burn unabated.
Sadly, this is how Washington usually operates. Remember the dozens of times House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act while Barack Obama was president? They knew they could score political points by voting for bills that would never become law. Once Donald Trump moved into the White House and the votes actually had consequences, the Obama-years braggadocio was nowhere to be found.
This isn’t just a Republican problem. Democrats play these games, too. They hate Senate filibusters unless they’re in the minority, and suddenly they insist filibusters are the only thing standing between America and tyranny. The fact is that both sides game the process with the intent of making themselves look good instead of actually solving the problem. That needs to change, and change now.
Last month, I participated in a forum on finding common ground on forest management. I was struck by the level-headedness of the group, which engaged in educated conversation instead of getting stuck at loggerheads (pun intended). One logging executive pointed out that the Resilient Federal Forest Act allows for massive 30,000 acre clear cuts which are only popular with the large-scale logging companies. This executive, an owner of multiple mills, said the logging industry can aspire to large clear cuts, but to him, it’s not worth the contention it creates in the surrounding community. This man’s counter to massive clearcuts is careful rotational thinning of smaller natural sections, a common-sense solution that is more friendly to wildlife, erosion and restoration.
These are ideas that ought to be included in a truly bipartisan bill that could clear Congress. This would also need to include, as Mitt Romney has stated, strategically distributed and trained personnel, carefully planned controlled burns, and resources to address locations where traditional logging is not economical.
Our representatives in this hyper-partisan system have failed us. It’s high time to wipe away the political muck work toward a successful law that can put the fires on so many fronts behind us.
Eric Eliason, Logan, is a businessman and the United Utah Party candidate for Utah’s 1st Congressional District seat.