Obama administration threatens veto on O&C timber bill
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) The White House is threatening to veto a bill to boost logging on national forests, including a provision aimed at producing more money for timber counties in Oregon.
The Statement of Administration Policy issued Wednesday by the Office of Management and Budget says if the bill were presented to President Obama, his senior advisers would recommend a veto.
The bill includes a provision developed by members of the Oregon delegation to turn over half the so-called O&C lands in Western Oregon to a state-appointed trust that would manage them for timber production. The other half would be managed for fish and wildlife habitat, and includes creation of new wilderness areas. The measure includes a federal subsidy for timber counties until the logging revenues start to come in.
The administration says that would harm habitat for endangered species, increase the chance of lawsuits, and limit the president's ability to create national monuments.
The bill could hit the House floor for debate as early as Thursday, said Andrew Malcolm, an aide to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a co-sponsor of the bill.
Since 1937, the so-called O&C counties have received half the gross revenues from timber cut on a patchwork of federal lands in Western Oregon that reverted to the federal government after the bankruptcy of the Oregon and California Railroad.
When logging was booming in the 1970s, some counties did not have to charge property taxes. But since logging cutbacks were implemented on federal lands in the 1990s to protect the northern spotted owl and salmon, the payments have dropped precipitously. A federal safety net to make up for the drop has expired, and two counties face possible bankruptcy if voters don't approve tax increases.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chief sponsor of the O&C lands provision, said if he were president, he would also threaten a veto, due to the controversial nature of three of the bill's four provisions, which are expected to die in the Senate.
He added he has negotiated in good faith for the best deal he can get from the Republican majority. He said he still hopes his O&C provision can move on to the Senate, where Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., can make changes that will make it acceptable to other Democratic senators, as well as the White House.
Walden said the White House fails to understand what is happening in rural communities throughout the West.
"Mills are closing, counties are literally going broke, and wildfire season seems to get worse and worse every year," he said in a statement. "The status quo isn't working. This broken system has to change. "
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is chief sponsor of the overall bill. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The veto threat was good news for conservationists who have opposed DeFazio on the plan for the O&C counties from the start.
"I think this letter is a signal that the DeFazio bill and the Hastings provisions are dead on arrival in the Senate," said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild. "And I hope it allows Ron Wyden to start a more adult conversation about a practical, rational approach to how to fund counties without sacrificing clean water, wildlife and the tourism and recreation economy Oregon depends on."
Randi Spivak, a spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the veto threat marked a big change for Obama, who has not been green on national forest policy.
"This strong statement finally puts them on record for protecting the public forests, endangered species, clean water and the laws that are meant to protect these values," she said.
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