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E-M:/ County Payments bill passed



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Enviro-Mich message from Billy Stern <billysun@chorus.net>
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This has Michigan, as well as National implications:

=====  A message from the 'wecforest' discussion list  =====

To:   All Activists
From: Lisa Dix, Lobbyist, American Lands Campaign
Date: October 30, 2000

Subject: COUNTY PAYMENTS BILL SIGNED

The County Payments bill passed in the Senate (10/6), the conference
report passed in the House (10/10) and was signed by the President
today.  The final bill weakened some of the environmental protections
that were added to the Senate bill (S. 1608).  Projects allowed by the
bill lack adequate environmental safeguards and the local advisory
committees may undermine the ability of the general public to influence
management decisions.  However, the final county payments bill will
ensure payments to counties even if the federal timber sales program
continues to decline.

The County Payments bill has the following three objectives:

Title I of the bill provides guaranteed payments to counties with federal
forest lands, based on the counties' all time-high revenue-sharing payments.

Title II gives a local 15 member Resource Advisory Committees (RACs),
appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, the use of a portion (15-20%)
of the guaranteed payments for federal land management projects.

Title III allows counties to opt out of Title II projects and keep the
15-20%
of the project funds under county control.  Under Title III all funds
have to go toward the following projects: search, rescue and emergency
services; community service work camps; easement purchases within the
county; forest related educational opportunities; fire prevention and
county planning; and community forestry.

CONTROVERSIAL BILL PROVISIONS

The final County Payments bill contains zero safeguards to ensure that
Title II projects do not impact roadless areas, old growth forests,
riparian areas or endangered species habitats.  In addition, the RACs
will have authority to recommend commercial logging and other
ecologically dangerous projects and will control the project funding
which will influence agency decision making.

In the Senate version of the bill, 75% of all projects that generate
merchantable material would have to utilize separate contracts to sell
the material.  This would separate the logger from the logs and
hopefully reduce the incentive for cutting excessive numbers or large
trees to increase project profits.  In the final bill the separate
contracts will only apply to 15% of the projects in the first year, 20%
the second year, 25% in the third year and then 50% in the remaining
years.

In the Senate bill a county had to choose to shift money into either
Title II or Title III projects. This safeguard was important because we
believed that most counties would choose Title III projects since the
county keeps the revenues instead of going to the RACs. The language in
the final bill, however, allows counties to "mix and match" Title II and
III funds.  Now counties can fund both Title III projects and divert
funds into Title II projects without adequate ecological protections.

To provide perspective, Douglass County in Oregon will receive $20.9
million in County Payments per year and will have to divert around $3.1
million to Title III projects, Title II projects or the Treasury.  For
example, under the "mix and match" scenario Douglass County can provide
$600,000 for Title III projects, and $2.5 million for Title II projects.
This kind of funding is significant because the $2.5 million can used
for commercial timber sales.


IMPORTANT WINS

In the original versions of the bill the payments to counties depended
largely on timber receipts.  The Administration, however, pushed the
House and Senate to agree to language which would pay county's from the
federal treasury even if timber receipts were halted on National
Forests.  In fact, in his floor speech Sen. Ron Wyden stated "unlike
today's system, a county will receive its payment from the general
Treasury, regardless of whether a single tree is cut on the National
Forests."

The implication of this language is huge.  By agreeing to the Treasury
based funding mechanism for county payments, the timber industry has
opened the door to further reductions in logging levels.  Once many
counties and schools get used to a larger stable payment, many counties
and schools will no longer have a direct a stake in promoting higher
logging levels.

In addition, due to the work of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen.
Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) there were some other important provisions
included in the final version of the bill.  First, all funds generated
from the projects must go back to the Federal Treasury.  This language
is significant because it decreases the RACs incentives to choose
revenue generating projects (e.g. commercial timber sales) to fund even
more projects for the forest the RAC governs.

Second, the bill requires that 50% of Title II projects must be for road
maintenance, decommissioning and obliteration or stream and watershed
restoration.  Although this provision is vague and lacks an adequate
monitoring provision to assure that 50% of all projects nationally are
indeed going toward these restoration efforts, it does provide some
legislative teeth for activists who are monitoring the Title II
projects.


IMPLICATIONS FOR ACTIVISTS

The County Payments bill will be harmful to the environment depending on
what the county's decide to do with their project funds.  As mentioned
above some counties will have a significant amount of money, in many
cases millions of dollars, to spend on projects.  Oregon, California,
Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska will receive the majority of the
funds for projects.  In fact, Oregon receives over 56% of all county
payments and many of the Oregon counties have over a million dollars to
spend on projects.  We believe that many counties will shift their funds
into Title III projects because the counties would have control of the
funds under Title III rather than the RACs.

We will also need to monitor these projects on the ground.
Environmental activists will need to participate in the RACs to insure
that projects are not ecologically damaging, monitor the projects once
they are approved and funded by the RACs, and help stop bad projects
from being implemented.  American Lands is committed to assisting local
activists to be involved in this new process.

Thanks to all who wrote letters, called members of Congress, and
generated media on the County Payments bill.  Although we have a lot
more work to do on the ground to steer these projects in an acceptable
direction, we did win some important battles due to your hard work.

For more information contact Lisa Dix, lobbyist, American Lands
Campaign, 202- 547-9400; mailto:lisadix@americanlands.org


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