IT'S JUST ONE VOTE, on one amendment, to one House of Representatives appropriations bill. It will probably disappear from the final version of the bill, which the Senate has not yet debated. But last week's surprisingly decisive, bipartisan House show of approval for a measure that would block further taxpayer subsidies for road-building in the Tongass National Forest should send an important signal to the Senate and its powerful appropriations chairman, Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Apart from the environmental issues -- the Tongass is the largest national forest remaining, and by some measures the most pristine -- the subsidy is indefensible on fiscal grounds, because it effectively props up the unprofitable logging industry. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Forest Service spent $36 million on subsidizing logging in the Tongass in fiscal 2002, yet received $1.2 million in revenue; $750 million has been lost on Tongass logging over the past 20 years. For too long, Alaskan special interests, operating through Alaska's congressional delegations, have kept this unnecessary industry going.
The White House would also do well do heed the lessons of this amendment vote, which was supported by 48 Republicans and sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) as well as Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.). In the near future, the administration is due to finalize the status of the "roadless" areas of both the Tongass and the Chugach forests, which Alaskan logging interests have lobbied to keep open, making them an exception to national policy. This vote should shed some doubt on the wisdom of that unpopular change, as well as on the general thrust of the administration's Alaskan environmental policy.
Earlier this week, the House leadership was also forced to cancel, for lack of support, a scheduled vote on an amendment that would have permitted oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At the very least, these changes should remind the White House that many in their own party also believe that national forests and national wildlife refuges are meant to be run for the benefit of the nation and not only for the benefit of the people who want to profit from them.