A few days ago I’d heard from somebody in the Darcy Burner camp that Dave Reichert was preparing to introduce legislation this coming week, adding 26,000 acres along the Pratt River to the Alpine Wilderness Area. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me, but it also sounds pretty damn cynical considering Reichert’s poor record on environmental issues, and his lockstep support of President Bush’s anti-wilderness policies. I’d meant to post preemptively, but Reichert’s staff beat me to it, feeding the story to the Seattle P-I’s Joel Connelly.
The curmudgeonly Connelly was the perfect choice: a nature enthusiast and wilderness advocate who longs for the days when the Republican notion of doing the “right” thing spoke more to rectitude of judgment than ideological correctness, Connelly holds an almost messianic faith in the second coming of moderate bipartisanship. Connelly also has a history of rewarding even the most reprobate Republicans for small steps toward the middle, and Reichert’s folks guessed right that their outreach to him might generate a little positive press. Which makes my failure to preempt Reichert’s announcement, putting it in its appropriate context, all the more disappointing.
For at the same time Reichert makes hay over his move to designate these 26,000 acres as protected wilderness, he refuses to oppose Bush administration rules that would open all two million acres of Washington’s remaining roadless national forest land — and 58.5 million acres nationwide — to road-building, logging, mining and other commercial development.
Rep. Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell have introduced bipartisan legislation that would do exactly that, reinstating by law the Clinton-era “roadless rule” that the Bush administration summarily revoked. The House version of the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act has already secured 140 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle. But noticeably absent from this list of supporters is the suddenly “green” Dave Reichert.
Connelly kvelled that Reichert “took a bold step to embrace a Republican tradition that has lately been sinking out of sight.” Oy. So after rinsing the vomit out of my mouth, I asked Burner for comment. In response, the campaign sent the following statement:
“My family and I live in modest home outside of Carnation because we enjoy being close to the land. I grew up in rural areas, so a connection to open country is something I feel deep in my bones. Growing up, my dad spent several summers as a park ranger at Mt. Rainier National Park. We lived near the park while he worked to protect those areas so visitors from across the state could come and appreciate the great outdoors.
“I remain committed to conservation and to protecting our environment. Our pristine open spaces are disappearing before our eyes as the Bush administration guts the strong wilderness conservation protections established during the Clinton years. If we do not act now to reverse this situation, much of our wilderness will be lost forever.
“That is why I strongly support HR 2516, Senator Maria Cantwell’s and Rep. Jay Inslee’s Roadless Area Protection Act. Fifty-nine million acres of wilderness across the country are at risk – including 2 million acres in Washington State (accounting for more than a fifth of our National Forests here) – because of rule changes imposed by the Bush administration that amount to a giveaway of public lands to loggers, oil companies and the mining industry. Unfortunately, these are changes that Congressman Reichert seems to support, since he is notably absent as one of the 144 co-sponsors – including a number of Republicans – of this important legislation.
“Now I hear that Congressman Reichert, who is not even sure yet that global warming exists, intends to begin portraying himself as going ‘green.’ He is telling the press that he would like to consider designating 26,000 acres of federal land of the Pratt River Valley a wilderness area. Many in the environmental community would like to see this area conserved and so would I. So I applaud Congressman Reichert for taking a small step in the direction of wilderness conservation.
“But I would also hope that he would join so many of his colleagues in co-sponsoring the bipartisan Cantwell-Inslee legislation. Otherwise, his willingness to consider protecting one small area while threatening 2 million acres elsewhere in the state is the equivalent of focusing on a tree while losing sight of the fact that the forest is being chopped down around you.
“Moreover, I believe strongly that we can not forget to take care of what we already have. Congress must adequately fund the Parks Service so the horrible damage the winter storms did to Mt Rainier National Park can be put on a fast track for repair and restoration. When I am elected, the voters of the 8th District can be sure that conserving our untouched public lands, not just in one location but all across the state, will be one of my top priorities. I will move quickly to ensure that the environmental health of our entire region is preserved and enhanced.”
So before other reporters, columnists and editorialists gush over a minority congressman’s attempt to immunize himself on environmental issues by announcing plans to protect 26,000 acres (a bill he is powerless to push through on his own,) I hope they ask Reichert the hard question of whether he will or will not join Inslee and Cantwell in opposing President Bush, and reinstating roadless rules that would protect 58.5 million acres of pristine forest from commercial development.
Joel Connelly will be my guest tonight in the 8PM hour on “The David Goldstein Show.”