AS EARLY AS today, the Senate will have the opportunity to rectify a mistake made by the House this spring, and to pass an amendment limiting taxpayer subsidies for logging in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. Although a similar amendment passed the House last year, it was dropped from the final version of the annual Interior Department spending legislation. This year, opponents managed to use procedural tricks to prevent a vote from taking place in the House at all. Now the Senate is to vote on a similar amendment, co-sponsored by Sens. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
It is no accident that this amendment enjoys bipartisan support, because it makes sense on both environmental and economic grounds. Logging is not only destructive in the Tongass, an extraordinarily pristine temperate rain forest, but it is highly unprofitable. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service spent $49 million on subsidizing logging in the Tongass, and received about $800,000 in profit. This is a business that exists only because of the political clout of Alaskan members of Congress, and it provides little benefit to anyone other than some 300 Alaskans who live off the government's largess.
Most of the time, anti-environmentalists derive satisfaction from lampooning environmentalists as starry-eyed dreamers who can't add up columns of figures. Here is a case in which the numbers are on the side of the environmentalists. If Senate Republicans can't defeat this measure, that will reveal something about the "pro-enterprise, pro-market" claims of their party.