Presidential hopeful plays with fire

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Could Tip O'Neill have been wrong? Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle may be about to find out, perhaps to his regret. With one artful insertion of law, the South Dakota Democrat demonstrated that even if "all politics is local," as O'Neill famously said, the local and the national become easily enmeshed, with one complicating the other.

Especially for those, such as Daschle, who think about running for president.

Last month, the South Dakota Democrat slipped into a House-Senate Conference Committee an amendment giving the force of law to an agreement reached by the Forest Service, the logging industry and two major environmental organizations to allow thinning in the Black Hills National Forest. The agreement also protects the roadless status of an area known as Beaver Park, and adds some 3,600 acres to the wilderness system.

But Daschle didn't stop there. His amendment insulates the terms of the agreement from any appeal or legal challenge.

This is what is known as giving your opponents an opening. Immediately, the Western Republicans pounced. Just what we've been asking for, they said. What's sauce for South Dakota's goose ought to be sauce for us ganders elsewhere in the West.

Theirs is a selective appetite. They only want the no-legal-challenge ingredient of Daschle's sauce, not the pre-seasoning of negotiations to work out a deal acceptable to the government, the timber industry and (at least some) conservationists. Ignoring the negotiating component, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., announced he would prepare legislation to nationalize the immunity ("sufficiency language" in government jargon) provisions of the South Dakota law.

Domenici even got two Democrats - Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California - to back his proposal. He's unlikely to get the nine more he'd need to overcome a threatened filibuster (assuming he held all the Republicans, which he wouldn't) and it's awfully hard for the minority to hitch a rider to an appropriations bill. But in the meantime, he and his allies can make Daschle uncomfortable.

Almost as obvious as the Republican clamor was the silence from the other side. Yes, Michael Francis of the Wilderness Society did put out a statement regretting the sufficiency language. From the rest of the Greens, there was silence, hardly what could have been expected were the Republicans still running the joint, and had Larry Craig, R-Idaho, for instance, gotten similar immunity for his state's forests.

At first glance, this seems to be crass politics and rank hypocrisy. Having helped save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Daschle gets a pass on an environmental desecration that would have aroused the furies had it come from a less-favored fellow.

Another glance reveals, as other glances often do, a more complex situation, though no shortage of politics. Two parties to the negotiations, the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, gave up more than they wanted to, and more than another group would. The Laramie-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance (formerly Biodiversity Associates), opted out of the talks earlier this year. "What they were proposing was (to) nuke the roadless area," said Jeff Kessler of the Alliance, "and in a way that would not help the forest."

The Alliance may be a small organization, but its decision was no small matter. These negotiations were actually renegotiations to alter an earlier agreement. That first agreement had been approved by a federal court, in settlement of a suit in which the BCA was a plaintiff. Without its participation, there could be no settlement, leaving the new agreement vulnerable to challenge.

This was unacceptable to the timber industry, which had also given up quite a lot, an assessment that comes not from an industry flack but from Sam Clausen, the head of the Sierra Club in Rapid City. "This is no bonanza for the industry," Clausen said. "They're not going to sell any of this timber." Instead, the government (that's us) will pay logging firms to thin an area infested by mountain pine beetle, and to create fuel breaks around private property and inhabited areas. Without the prospect of big bucks, the companies wanted the assurance of prompt payment. Hence the rider banning appeals.

"We don't like the possible precedent it sets," Clausen said. But under the circumstances, he found it acceptable.

Those circumstances are political. Of all the contests this fall, none is more important to Daschle than the re-election of his Democratic colleague, Sen. Tim Johnson, tied with Rep. John Thune in the latest polls. Thune had been scoring political points in western South Dakota by pushing for even broader exemptions to environmental laws * one of his proposals would have allowed logging in a wilderness area * and by associating Johnson with anti-logging Greens. Slipping that sufficiency language into the law was Daschle's way of insulating Johnson from Thune's attack.

Still, Daschle had to know that he was providing ammunition to the other side. For months, Western Republicans had been using the specter of forest fires to open up more woods to more logging. Now that the Democratic leader has done something similar for his own state, he will have to fend off the Republicans or suffer the disapproval of the environmental community, a potent force in Democratic presidential primaries.

So was Tip O'Neill wrong? Well, partly.

All politics is local only when you're not a national figure.

Jon Margolis covers Washington's wheels and deals from Barton, Vermont.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt