“Instead of enduring season after season of devastating fires, my administration acted to remove the causes of severe wildfires,” said President Bush when he signed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, a law that boosts logging on 20 million acres of public lands. (HCN, 12/8/03: Forest protection on the honor system). At the ceremony, Bush thanked top officials from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior, Republican lawmakers, firefighters, scientists — and Chuck Leavell, the Rolling Stones’ keyboard player, a “tree raiser,” in Bush’s words, who was attending the ceremony.
Under orders from Washington to privatize federal jobs, the Forest Service has just completed its first round of lay-offs: In August, the agency purged members of the Content Analysis Team, which analyzes public comment on the agency’s environmental analyses. In November, 20 more employees lost their jobs (HCN, 9/1/03: From Washington, D.C., comes a new spoils system). The jobs have been outsourced, despite a study that shows the agency can do the job $425,000 cheaper than private contractors.
Former government officials are fuming over the White House’s environmental record — and some of them have come out swinging. A new group, Environment 2004, is hoping to make environmental issues a priority of Democratic candidates in the next election. Prominent members include Bruce Babbitt, Interior secretary under Clinton; Carol Browner, Clinton’s EPA administrator; and David Foster Hales, a high-ranking Interior Department official under Jimmy Carter.