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Chainsaw Tom
OPINION
WALL STREET JOURNAL
JULY 25, 2002
The fallout from this year's forest fires is accomplishing wonders -- such as
the sight of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle running into the protective arms
of the Republican-controlled Forest Service. Quick, someone get water to revive
the Sierra Club.
Last week, Mr. Daschle slipped language into a spending bill that would exempt
his home state of South Dakota from key environmental laws. "The fire danger in
the Black Hills is high," said Smoky the Bear, er, Mr. Daschle, and this
legislation will "avoid costly, time-consuming lawsuits" and "get the forest
thinned and property protected."
Well, knock us over with a chainsaw. We are thrilled that the nation's top
Democrat now agrees that environmentalist obstruction is behind today's Western
fires. And far be it from us to question his motives. But a few uncharitable
folks are pointing out that South Dakota Junior Senator Tim Johnson is fighting
for his political life against GOP Congressman John Thune.
This spring Mr. Thune tried to insert a similar South Dakota cleanup measure
into the farm bill -- hoping to pre-empt deadly fires. But Messrs. Daschle and
Johnson, at the bidding of environmentalists, let it die. Now that fires are
raging back home, however, Mr. Johnson is taking a political beating and so the
pair are trying to convince voters it was their idea all along.
Also heading for rabbit holes are the green lobbies that caused the problem.
South Dakota's Black Hills forest cleanup has faced some 20 appeals and lawsuits
over the past decade, primarily from groups like the Sierra Club. Yet now that
Mr. Daschle has suspended the very laws that those groups used to interfere,
they won't return our phone calls seeking comment.
We thought these folks were made of sterner principles. But it looks like they
are more than willing to park those beliefs when there's an election to win. For
weeks now the Sierra Club has been running TV ads in South Dakota trashing Mr.
Thune as an enemy of Mother Earth. The League of Conservation Voters (Democrats:
100%; Republicans 0%) is also running nonstop TV spots listing him as one of its
"Dirty Dozen." With Mr. Johnson now declaring that Mr. Thune was right all
along, are they going to relent?
Don't hold your breath. Their current silence in service of Mr. Daschle's
election strategy reveals the extent to which the green lobbies have become
wholly owned subsidiaries of the Democratic Party. Here and there they support a
Republican for cosmetic reasons, but when national Democrats give orders they're
more than happy to sell out their beliefs.
By the way, the Dakota Senators aren't the only ones facing fire fallout. Last
week Washington Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee proposed legislation that
would have put large forest areas off-limits to roads and logging. He pulled it
at the last minute after key Western Democrats bailed. The debate has shifted:
Nobody dares support a measure that will lead to fire, at least through
November.
Then no doubt Mr. Daschle and the Sierra Club will be back in sync, pretending
that none of this ever happened. The question is whether Mr. Johnson will be
back in the Senate along with them, or be defeated by voters who aren't fooled
by this latest environmental two-step.
Updated July 25, 2002
 
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